SpaceX kicks off its space-based internet service tomorrow with 60-satellite Starlink launch

SpaceX kicks off its space-based internet service tomorrow with 60-satellite Starlink launch

3:47pm, 14th May, 2019
As wild as it sounds, the race is on to build a functioning space internet — and SpaceX is taking its biggest step yet with the launch of 60 (!) satellites tomorrow that will form the first wave of its Starlink constellation. It’s a hugely important and incredibly complex launch for the company — and should be well worth launching. A Falcon 9 with the flat Starlink test satellites (they’re “production design” but not final hardware) is vertical at launchpad 40 in Cape Canaveral. It has completed its static fire test and should have a window for launch tomorrow, weather permitting. Building satellite constellations hundreds or thousands strong is seen by several major companies and investors as the next major phase of connectivity — though it will take years and billions of dollars to do so. OneWeb, perhaps SpaceX’s biggest competitor in this area, just in funding after in March of a planned 650. Jeff Bezos has announced that Amazon will join the fray with the proposed 3,236-satellite Project Kuiper. Ubiquitilink has . And plenty of others are taking on smaller segments, like lower-cost or domain-specific networks. Needless to say it’s an exciting sector, but today’s launch is a particularly interesting one because it is so consequential for SpaceX. If this doesn’t go well, it could set Starlink’s plans back long enough to give competitors an edge. The satellites stacked inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. “Tight fit,” pointed out CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX hasn’t explained exactly how the 60 satellites will be distributed to their respective orbits, but founder and CEO Elon Musk did note on Twitter that there’s “no dispenser.” Of course there must be some kind of dispenser — these things aren’t going to just jump off of their own accord. They’re stuffed in there like kernels on a corncob, and likely each have . A pair of prototype satellites, Tintin-A and B, have been in orbit since early last year, and have no doubt furnished a great deal of useful information to the Starlink program. But the 60 aboard tomorrow’s launch aren’t quite final hardware. Although Musk noted that they are “production design,” COO Gwynne Shotwell has said that they are still test models. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” she said at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. — they reportedly lack inter-satellite links but are otherwise functional. I’ve asked SpaceX for more information on this. It makes sense: If you’re planning to put thousands (perhaps as many as 12,000 eventually) of satellites into orbit, you’ll need to test at scale and with production hardware. And for those worried about the possibility of overpopulation in orbit — it’s absolutely something to consider, but many of these satellites will be ; at 550 kilometers up, these tiny satellites will naturally de-orbit in a handful of years. Even OneWeb’s, at 1,100 km, aren’t that high up — geosynchronous satellites are above 35,000 km. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all, but it does mean failed or abandoned satellites won’t stick around for long. Just don’t expect to boot up your Starlink connection any time soon. It would take a minimum of 6 more launches like this one — a total of 420, a happy coincidence for Musk — to provide “minor” coverage. This would likely only be for testing as well, not commercial service. That would need 12 more launches, and dozens more to bring it to the point where it can compete with terrestrial broadband. Even if it will take years to pull off, that is the plan. And by that time others will have spun up their operations as well. It’s an exciting time for space and for connectivity. No launch time has been set as of this writing, so takeoff is just planned for Wednesday the 15th at present. As there’s no need to synchronize the launch with the movement of any particular celestial body, T-0 should be fairly flexible and SpaceX will likely just wait for the best weather and visibility. Delays are always a possibility, though, so don’t be surprised if this is pushed out to later in the week. As always you’ll be able to watch the launch , but I’ll update this post with the live video link as soon as it’s available.
HP’s new gaming laptop has more screens for more content

HP’s new gaming laptop has more screens for more content

9:41am, 14th May, 2019
There’s something about gaming laptops that make manufacturers do weird things. It’s kind of wonderful, in a way. Companies tend to give their teams a much wider berth for strange and novel designs, and HP’s Omen line is certainly no stranger. Designs that tend to be relegated to the concept shelf of history actually hit the market, and indeed, the Omen X 2S is currently on target for a May/June release. The defining characteristic of the $2,700 notebook is almost certainly the inclusion of a second screen that lives just above the keyboard. HP’s not the first to attempt such a thing — in fact, we might actually be approaching a trend here. The six-inch secondary display is considerably smaller than the 15-inch mean dealie. It’s designed to provide supplementary information at a glance. While the idea of a secondary screen has been around for some time, I do think HP’s at least being fairly realistic about how it will primarily be used. Rather than assuming that game developers are going to create content specifically for the 1080p touchscreen, HP suggests that gamers will almost certainly use it for other apps entirely. It suggests chatting in WeChat and WhatsApp, using Spotify and watching Twitch and YouTube videos. In other words, it will essentially serve the same function as just sticking your phone on your laptop — but this one is built in. Oh, and HP sells now, so you can coordinate with your new dual-screen laptop.
VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

6:17pm, 14th May, 2019
VR’s most hyped game is getting a price bump later this month as it expands the amount of headsets that it’s playable on. We did a big deep-dive last week on Beat Saber, the best seller from a tiny Prague VR studio that’s pulling in big revenues. The game is part Guitar Hero, part Fruit Ninja, and you’ve got some light sabers to guide you through EDM tunes. It’s sold over 1 million copies. This week, the company Beat Games shared some updates that are likely to increase those revenues further as the company grows more confident that they’ve ironed out most of the game’s bugs. On May 21, Beat Games is bumping the price from $20 to $30 on Valve’s Steam store and the Oculus Home platform, bringing the price in line with the PS VR version. This price bump comes as the company abandons the “Early Access” title, a classifier that has long signified that a game is in beta and hasn’t had all of the kinks ironed out. With this, the studio detailed in a , they feel the game has reached a “stable version,” and that it is now a “full game.” When the game exits early access, it will be picking up a long-promised level editor so that gamers can create custom levels for their own audio tracks. The price change on May 21 isn’t an arbitrary date, that’s when Oculus will be releasing both of its new headsets, the Rift S and Quest. Speaking of the Quest, Oculus had introduced a feature called cross-buy that would enable users who already owned a copy of a game on Rift to let users download that game for free on Quest. On , Beat Games noted today that they won’t be supporting this for the base game, so Quest users will still have to pay up, though the studio said they will enable the feature for add-ons like additional music packs. Beat Saber is going to be unified across all platforms moving forward, meaning you won’t see certain versions getting updates that the others won’t get for a while. This opens up the potential for cross-platform multiplayer as the studio continues to work on a mode for multiple concurrent users. The price jump comes next week, you’ll still be able to score the game at the Early Access price before May 21.
Review: Paint a fantasy landscape with indie game ‘Eastshade,’ developed by Seattle-area studio

Review: Paint a fantasy landscape with indie game ‘Eastshade,’ developed by Seattle-area studio

3:08pm, 12th May, 2019
Eastshade feels like somebody made an entire game out of a launch trailer. About five minutes after you start a new game, it turns into an endless series of interactive landscape paintings, as a colorful guided tour through someone’s imaginary island. There are a lot of incidental scenes in Eastshade — weird buildings, distant cities, a picturesque eclipse every day at noon that turns the sky red — that look like other games’ concept art, or which they’d use as big, triumphant moments. It’s ridiculously pretty. It’s the result of five years of work by , an indie developer founded in Bellevue, Wash. by Danny Weinbaum, who left a job as an environment artist at Sucker Punch to start the project. , Eastshade didn’t begin with a planned story or game mechanic, but instead, is an attempt to create a world that had a real sense of place. Everything else came after that, including its central gameplay loop. The game is set on an island of the same name, with you playing the part of a traveling painter who arrives one night by ship. (You never leave a first-person perspective or see your character, so in all the ways that matter, your character in Eastshade is you, reimagined.) Your character’s mother has recently passed away, and you’re here to fulfill her last request: travel to Eastshade, a place that she loved, and paint four specific landscapes that were important to her. Your ship sinks right before it was supposed to dock, which initially strands you in the one-horse village of Lyndow. Broke and alone in a strange town, you’re forced to rely on your wits to figure out how to reach the far side of the island and complete your mother’s request. Notably, you’re an artist, not an adventurer, and Eastshade is not the kind of fantasy world that has an apocalypse breathing down its neck. There are no evils brewing on the horizon; no bandits are randomly harassing people in the countryside; there aren’t a lot of suspiciously hostile wild animals out in the forest; and so far, the most violent encounter I’ve found is when an angry villager punched me out. (Frankly, I had it coming.) There are problems on Eastshade, but they aren’t the kind of problems that have to be solved with murder, and even if they were, you’re not the kind of protagonist who’s equipped to do so. Instead, you get around obstacles and complete quests by solving puzzles, gathering information, collecting resources from the wilderness, and exploring the area. Your central goal is to paint your mother’s four memorial paintings, which requires you to get all the way across Eastshade, into its capital, and up into the mountains. That turns out to be a lot harder than it sounds, thanks to short funds, local bureaucracy, and your lack of supplies. You end up having to do odd jobs, befriend the locals, and intervene in a couple of local disputes, but the stakes stay low and nobody ever tries to start a fight. It’s actually sort of weird. Eastshade is set in a big, open world, played from a first-person perspective, with a lot of animal-people around, so I kept thinking it’s an Elder Scrolls game. In Elder Scrolls games, you have to fight half a dozen monsters and cutpurses every time you leave a town. Being able to just walk outside a village in Eastshade and meander around for hours without being repeatedly attacked by skeletons or something makes me feel like I’m cheating somehow. Your character’s skill at painting comes in handy occasionally to make money and finish quests, usually by bribing people with a portrait or landscape piece. You’re limited in how many paintings you can make, however, by your supply of canvas and a stat called Inspiration. The latter is generated by completing tasks, finding new places, and reading new books; the former has to be built on the cheap by scavenging scrap wood and discarded rags from anywhere you can find them. You may never get into a fight in Eastshade, but you will walk into every house you can find to steal all their candles, laundry, and spare boards. There are some fantasy-game tropes that you simply cannot escape. Eventually, you open up repeatable ways to generate Inspiration, as well as a merchant who’ll just sell you spare canvases, but neither are located anywhere convenient. You’re encouraged to be careful and precise about what you paint and when, as well as to constantly explore, read, and scavenge for fresh materials. The whole game is thus built around making you check every stray corner of the map for whatever might be hiding there, whether it’s a new place, a few materials, or maybe an obscure solution to a puzzle that’s been bothering you for the last hour. Eastshade actually reminds me of old adventure games from the 1980s. The user interface is deliberately stripped down to the quick, without a lot of the typical hand-holding features you find in a lot of modern games. It’s about an hour in before you find a map, for example, and while you get a quest log, its instructions are typically vague. This is the kind of game where you’ll get a quest from someone, and in order to finish it, you have to go halfway across the map to an unrelated area, solve two strange puzzles, and get an item that doesn’t seem immediately relevant. You’re just supposed to check everywhere and do everything until you figure out what works. Sometimes, that’s relaxing, especially since there’s no time limit or real urgency. You can calm down, unwind, and go do something else for a while, like fishing. Other times, though, Eastshade’s deliberately languorous pace gets on my nerves, especially when it hits me with a particularly obnoxious quest or two. Sometimes, you just want to play a game where you get something done, and at that point, you’d do better to play something else entirely. I’d also be a little happier if it was easier to make money. There are a lot of quests that can’t be finished without equipment you can buy in the capital city, all of which is surprisingly expensive. There are ways to come up with the cash, like working in the local farmers’ fields, but it’s a bit of a grind, which feels at odds with the easygoing nature of the rest of the game. (There’s actually a whole feedback loop the fans have worked out here, which feels like it’s got to be an unintended exploit. You can turn Inspiration into money working in the fields, then go below the city to the local hippie hangout and repeatedly drink cups of hallucinogenic tea to regain all that Inspiration.) Those amount to nitpicks, though. Eastshade is 100 percent worth your time, if only for its visuals. I’m legitimately impressed that a small team was able to pull a game like this off, to produce landscapes like this that you can explore from every angle, and I’ll be really surprised if Eastshade doesn’t pick up a handful of art-direction awards nominations at the end of the year. It’s a beautiful sort of fantasy world to spend some time in, and while I have to be in the right mood to enjoy Eastshade’s slow-going atmosphere, it’s a great game to fire up just to walk around and see what it’s got to show you.
Cat vs best and worst robot vacuum cleaners 

Cat vs best and worst robot vacuum cleaners 

2:13pm, 11th May, 2019
If you’ve flirted with the idea of buying a robot vacuum you may also have stepped back from the brink in unfolding horror at the alphabetic soup of branded discs popping into view. Consumer choice sounds like a great idea until you’ve tried to get a handle on the handle-less vacuum space. Amazon offers an A to Z of “top brands” that’s only a handful of letters short of a full alphabetic set. The horror. What awaits the unseasoned robot vacuum buyer as they resign themselves to hours of online research to try to inform — or, well, form — a purchase decision is a seeming endless permutation of robot vac reviews and round-ups. Unfortunately there are just so many brands in play that all these reviews tend to act as fuel, feeding a growing black hole of indecision that sucks away at your precious spare time, demanding you spend more and more of it reading about robots that suck (when you could, let’s be frank, be getting on with the vacuuming task yourself) — only to come up for air each time even less convinced that buying a robot dirtbag is at all a good idea. Reader, I know, because I fell into this hole. And it was hellish. So in the spirit of trying to prevent anyone else falling prey to convenience-based indecision I am — apologies in advance — adding to the pile of existing literature about robot vacuums with a short comparative account that (hopefully) helps cut through some of the chaff to the dirt-pulling chase. Here’s the bottom line: Budget robot vacuums that lack navigational smarts are simply not worth your money, or indeed your time. Yes, that’s despite the fact they are still actually expensive vacuum cleaners. Basically these models entail overpaying for a vacuum cleaner that’s so poor you’ll still have to do most of the job yourself (i.e. with a non-robotic vacuum cleaner). It’s the very worst kind of badly applied robotics. Abandon hope of getting anything worth your money at the bottom end of the heap. I know this because, alas, I tried — opting, finally and foolishly (but, in my defence, at a point of near desperation after sifting so much virtual chaff the whole enterprise seemed to have gained lottery odds of success and I frankly just wanted my spare time back), for a model sold by a well-known local retailer. It was a budget option but I assumed — or, well, hoped — the retailer had done its homework and picked a better-than-average choice. Or at least something that, y’know, could suck dust. The brand in question (Rowenta) sat alongside the better known (and a bit more expensive) iRobot on the shop shelf. Surely that must count for something? I imagined wildly. Reader, that logic is a trap. I can’t comment on the comparative performance of iRobot’s bots, which I have not personally tested, but I do not hesitate to compare a €180 (~$200) Rowenta-branded robot vacuum to a very expensive cat toy. This robot vacuum was spectacularly successful at entertaining the cat — presumably on account of its dumb disposition, bouncing stupidly off of furniture owing to a total lack of navigational smarts. (Headbutting is a pretty big clue to how stupid a robot it is, as it’s never a stand-in for intelligence even when encountered in human form.) Even more tantalizingly, from the cat’s point of view, the bot featured two white and whisker-like side brushes that protrude and spin at paw-tempting distance. In short: Pure robotic catnip. The cat did not stop attacking the bot’s whiskers the whole time it was in operation. That certainly added to the obstacles getting in its way. But the more existential problem was it wasn’t sucking very much at all. At the end of its first concluded ‘clean’, after it somehow managed to lurch its way back to first bump and finally hump its charging hub, I extracted the bin and had to laugh at the modest sized furball within. I’ve found larger clumps of dust gathering themselves in corners. So: Full marks for cat-based entertainment but as a vacuum cleaner it was horrible. At this point I did what every sensible customer does when confronted with an abject lemon: Returned it for a full refund. And that, reader, might have been that for me and the cat and robot vacs. Who can be bothered to waste so much money and time for what appeared laughably incremental convenience? Even with a steady supply of cat fur to contend with. But as luck would have it a Roborock representative emailed to ask if I would like to review their latest top-of-the-range model — which, at €549, does clock in at the opposite end of the price scale; ~3x the pitiful Rowenta. So of course I jumped at the chance to give the category a second spin — to see if a smarter device could impress me and not just tickle the cat’s fancy. Clearly the price difference here, at the top vs the bottom of the range, is substantial. And yet, if you bought a car that was 3x times cheaper than a Ferrari you’d still expect not just that the wheels stay on but that it can actually get you somewhere, in good time and do so without making you horribly car sick. Turns out buyers of robot vacuums need to tread far more carefully. Here comes the bookending top-line conclusion: Robot vacuums are amazing. A modern convenience marvel. But — and it’s a big one — only if you’re willing to shell out serious cash to get a device that actually does the job intended. Roborock S6: It’s a beast at gobbling your furry friend’s dander Comparing the Roborock S6 and the Rowenta Smart Force Essential Aqua RR6971WH (to give it its full and equally terrible name) is like comparing a high-end electric car with a wind-up kid’s toy. Where the latter product was so penny-pinching the company hadn’t even paid to include in the box a user manual that contained actual words — opting, we must assume, to save on translation costs by producing a comic packed with inscrutable graphics and bizarro don’t do diagrams which only served to cement the fast-cooling buyer’s conviction they’d been sold a total lemon — the Roborock’s box contains a well written paper manual that contains words and clearly labeled diagrams. What a luxury! At the same time there’s not really that much you need to grok to get your head around operating the Roborock. After a first pass to familiarize yourself with its various functions it’s delightfully easy to use. It will even produce periodic vocal updates — such as telling you it’s done cleaning and is going back to base. (Presumably in case you start to worry it’s gone astray under the bed. Or that quiet industry is a front for brewing robotic rebellion against indentured human servitude.) One button starts a full clean — and this does mean full thanks to on-board laser navigation that allows the bot to map the rooms in real-time. This means you get methodical passes, minimal headbutting and only occasional spots missed. (Another button will do a spot clean if the S6 does miss something or there’s a fresh spill that needs tidying — you just lift the bot to where you want it and hit the appropriate spot.) There is an app too, if you want to access extra features like being able to tell it to go clean a specific room, schedule cleans or set no-go zones. But, equally delightfully, there’s no absolute need to hook the bot to your wi-fi just to get it to do its primary job. All core features work without the faff of having to connect it to the Internet — nor indeed the worry of who might get access to your room-mapping data. From a privacy point of view this wi-fi-less app-free operation is a major plus. In a small apartment with hard flooring the only necessary prep is a quick check to clear stuff like charging cables and stray socks off the floor. You can of course park dining chairs on the table to offer the bot a cleaner sweep. Though I found the navigation pretty adept at circling chair legs. Sadly the unit is a little too tall to make it under the sofa. The S6 includes an integrated mopping function, which works incredibly well on lino-style hard flooring (but won’t be any use if you only have carpets). To mop you fill the water tank attachment; velcro-fix a dampened mop cloth to the bottom; and slide-clip the whole unit under the bot’s rear. Then you hit the go button and it’ll vacuum and mop in the same pass. In my small apartment the S6 had no trouble doing a full floor clean in under an hour, without needing to return to base to recharge in the middle. (Roborock says the S6 will drive for up to three hours on a single charge.) It also did not seem to get confused by relatively dark flooring in my apartment — which some reviews had suggested can cause headaches for robot vacuums by confusing their cliff sensors. After that first clean I popped the lid to check on the contents of the S6’s transparent lint bin — finding an impressive quantity of dusty fuzz neatly wadded therein. This was really just robot vacuum porn, though; the gleaming floors spoke for themselves on the quality of the clean. The level of dust gobbled by the S6 vs the Rowenta underlines the quality difference between the bottom and top end of the robot vacuum category. So where the latter’s plastic carapace immediately became a magnet for all the room dust it had kicked up but spectacularly failed to suck, the S6’s gleaming white shell has stayed remarkably lint-free, acquiring only a minimal smattering of cat hairs over several days of operation — while the floors it’s worked have been left visibly dust- and fur-free. (At least until the cat got to work dirtying them again.) Higher suction power, better brushes and a higher quality integrated filter appear to make all the difference. The S6 also does a much better cleaning job a lot more quietly. Roborock claims it’s 50% quieter than the prior model (the S5) and touts it as its quietest robot vacuum yet. It’s not super silent but is quiet enough when cleaning hard floors not to cause a major disturbance if you’re working or watching something in the same room. Though the novelty can certainly be distracting. Even the look of the S6 exudes robotic smarts — with its raised laser-housing bump resembling a glowing orange cylonic eye-slot. Although I was surprised, at first glance, by the single, rather feeble looking side brush vs the firm pair the Rowenta had fixed to its undercarriage. But again the S6’s tool is smartly applied — stepping up and down speed depending on what the bot’s tackling. I found it could miss the odd bit of lint or debris such as cat litter but when it did these specs stood out as the exception on an otherwise clean floor. It’s also true that the cat did stick its paw in again to try attacking the S6’s single spinning brush. But these attacks were fewer and a lot less fervent than vs the Rowenta, as if the bot’s more deliberate navigation commanded greater respect and/or a more considered ambush. So it appears that even to a feline eye the premium S6 looks a lot less like a dumb toy. Cat plots another ambush while the S6 works the floor On a practical front, the S6’s lint bin has a capacity of 480ml. Roborock suggests cleaning it out weekly (assuming you’re using the bot every week), as well as washing the integrated dust filter (it supplies a spare in the box so you can switch one out to clean it and have enough time for it to fully dry before rotating it back into use). If you use the mopping function the supplied reusable mop cloths do need washing afterwards too (Roborock also includes a few disposable alternatives in the box but that seems a pretty wasteful option when it’s easy enough to stick a reusable cloth in with a load of laundry or give it a quick wash yourself). So if you’re chasing a fully automated, robot-powered, end-to-cleaning-chores dream be warned there’s still a little human elbow grease required to keep everything running smoothly. Still, there’s no doubt a top-of-the-range robot vacuum like the S6 will save you time cleaning. If you can justify the not inconsiderable cost involved in buying this extra time by shelling out for a premium robot vacuum that’s smart enough to clean effectively all that’s left to figure out is how to spend your time windfall wisely — resisting the temptation to just put your feet up and watch the clever little robot at work.
This week in games: E3 rumors start springing forth, EA doubles down on loot boxes

This week in games: E3 rumors start springing forth, EA doubles down on loot boxes

12:30pm, 11th May, 2018
We’re entering that weird period before every E3 where the “leaks” start appearing and it’s impossible to know what’s real or not. Case in point: Pretty much all the news this week.Look for rumors about Rage 2, Splinter Cell, and “Forza Horizons 5” (?) below, plus EA’s Andrew Wilson reiterating support for loot boxes, Rusty Lake making a short film, a trailer for a snazzy looking shooter called Atomic Heart, and details on Red Sox pitcher David Price’s Fortnite ban.The Free in the Flood I don’t know what exactly is tied to. Not May Day, nor Easter, nor Groundhog Day, nor the equinox, or any other obvious spring event. Regardless, it means cheap games for you—and one free game, too. , a (their words) “rogue-lite river journey through the backwaters of a forgotten post-societal America.” Basically, you float down a river on a raft and try not to die. Grab it before mid-day Saturday and it’s yours to keep, with a Steam key included.
SpaceX kicks off its space-based internet service tomorrow with 60-satellite Starlink launch

SpaceX kicks off its space-based internet service tomorrow with 60-satellite Starlink launch

3:47pm, 14th May, 2019
As wild as it sounds, the race is on to build a functioning space internet — and SpaceX is taking its biggest step yet with the launch of 60 (!) satellites tomorrow that will form the first wave of its Starlink constellation. It’s a hugely important and incredibly complex launch for the company — and should be well worth launching. A Falcon 9 with the flat Starlink test satellites (they’re “production design” but not final hardware) is vertical at launchpad 40 in Cape Canaveral. It has completed its static fire test and should have a window for launch tomorrow, weather permitting. Building satellite constellations hundreds or thousands strong is seen by several major companies and investors as the next major phase of connectivity — though it will take years and billions of dollars to do so. OneWeb, perhaps SpaceX’s biggest competitor in this area, just in funding after in March of a planned 650. Jeff Bezos has announced that Amazon will join the fray with the proposed 3,236-satellite Project Kuiper. Ubiquitilink has . And plenty of others are taking on smaller segments, like lower-cost or domain-specific networks. Needless to say it’s an exciting sector, but today’s launch is a particularly interesting one because it is so consequential for SpaceX. If this doesn’t go well, it could set Starlink’s plans back long enough to give competitors an edge. The satellites stacked inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. “Tight fit,” pointed out CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX hasn’t explained exactly how the 60 satellites will be distributed to their respective orbits, but founder and CEO Elon Musk did note on Twitter that there’s “no dispenser.” Of course there must be some kind of dispenser — these things aren’t going to just jump off of their own accord. They’re stuffed in there like kernels on a corncob, and likely each have . A pair of prototype satellites, Tintin-A and B, have been in orbit since early last year, and have no doubt furnished a great deal of useful information to the Starlink program. But the 60 aboard tomorrow’s launch aren’t quite final hardware. Although Musk noted that they are “production design,” COO Gwynne Shotwell has said that they are still test models. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” she said at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. — they reportedly lack inter-satellite links but are otherwise functional. I’ve asked SpaceX for more information on this. It makes sense: If you’re planning to put thousands (perhaps as many as 12,000 eventually) of satellites into orbit, you’ll need to test at scale and with production hardware. And for those worried about the possibility of overpopulation in orbit — it’s absolutely something to consider, but many of these satellites will be ; at 550 kilometers up, these tiny satellites will naturally de-orbit in a handful of years. Even OneWeb’s, at 1,100 km, aren’t that high up — geosynchronous satellites are above 35,000 km. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all, but it does mean failed or abandoned satellites won’t stick around for long. Just don’t expect to boot up your Starlink connection any time soon. It would take a minimum of 6 more launches like this one — a total of 420, a happy coincidence for Musk — to provide “minor” coverage. This would likely only be for testing as well, not commercial service. That would need 12 more launches, and dozens more to bring it to the point where it can compete with terrestrial broadband. Even if it will take years to pull off, that is the plan. And by that time others will have spun up their operations as well. It’s an exciting time for space and for connectivity. No launch time has been set as of this writing, so takeoff is just planned for Wednesday the 15th at present. As there’s no need to synchronize the launch with the movement of any particular celestial body, T-0 should be fairly flexible and SpaceX will likely just wait for the best weather and visibility. Delays are always a possibility, though, so don’t be surprised if this is pushed out to later in the week. As always you’ll be able to watch the launch , but I’ll update this post with the live video link as soon as it’s available.
VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

6:17pm, 14th May, 2019
VR’s most hyped game is getting a price bump later this month as it expands the amount of headsets that it’s playable on. We did a big deep-dive last week on Beat Saber, the best seller from a tiny Prague VR studio that’s pulling in big revenues. The game is part Guitar Hero, part Fruit Ninja, and you’ve got some light sabers to guide you through EDM tunes. It’s sold over 1 million copies. This week, the company Beat Games shared some updates that are likely to increase those revenues further as the company grows more confident that they’ve ironed out most of the game’s bugs. On May 21, Beat Games is bumping the price from $20 to $30 on Valve’s Steam store and the Oculus Home platform, bringing the price in line with the PS VR version. This price bump comes as the company abandons the “Early Access” title, a classifier that has long signified that a game is in beta and hasn’t had all of the kinks ironed out. With this, the studio detailed in a , they feel the game has reached a “stable version,” and that it is now a “full game.” When the game exits early access, it will be picking up a long-promised level editor so that gamers can create custom levels for their own audio tracks. The price change on May 21 isn’t an arbitrary date, that’s when Oculus will be releasing both of its new headsets, the Rift S and Quest. Speaking of the Quest, Oculus had introduced a feature called cross-buy that would enable users who already owned a copy of a game on Rift to let users download that game for free on Quest. On , Beat Games noted today that they won’t be supporting this for the base game, so Quest users will still have to pay up, though the studio said they will enable the feature for add-ons like additional music packs. Beat Saber is going to be unified across all platforms moving forward, meaning you won’t see certain versions getting updates that the others won’t get for a while. This opens up the potential for cross-platform multiplayer as the studio continues to work on a mode for multiple concurrent users. The price jump comes next week, you’ll still be able to score the game at the Early Access price before May 21.