Joseph Volpe

    Entertainment Editor
  • Bayer to use satellite imaging to modernize farming efforts

    You probably know Bayer for its aspirin. But the multinational pharmaceutical company has its fingers in more pies that that -- it's also keen to become a force in agriculture. As part of a push to focus on its Crop Science division, the company's partnered with Planetary Resources, an aerospace tech company, to create products and services using data obtained from satellite imagery. The goal? To sell services and tools to farmers that will make agriculture more efficient and environmentally adaptable. Though the collaboration has just been announced and, therefore, no services have yet been created, Bayer's indicated a few key areas where satellite data could be beneficial: water conservation through more ideally timed irrigation; recommendations on timing for crop planting; and the ability to determine what soil will hold water best.

  • T-Mobile creates service plan for visitors to the US

    Tech-savvy travelers heading out from the US know how to make their (unlocked) smartphones work abroad: buy a pre-paid local SIM and add credits as needed. Sure actual international plans exist, but they're usually more expensive than they're worth. Today, however, T-Mobile's flipping the script by offering a Tourist Plan for visitors to the US. The service, which goes live June 12th, costs $30 and lasts for three weeks, giving visitors unlimited data (LTE up to 2GB, though!), domestic and international texting and 1,000 voice minutes for domestic calls. What's more, T-Mobile's not charging for the SIM card or activation. In all, it's a pretty good deal and cheaper than the company's other prepaid options. So if you were hoping to stay connected and share the minutiae of your US adventures with your followers back home, now you've got a solid option.

  • Mojang bans brands from building Minecraft promo maps and mods

    Mojang's putting its blocky foot down when it comes to brands and Minecraft. In an open letter to the community on its site, Owen Hill, the company's director of creative communications, laid out new guidelines specifically directed at companies, ad agencies and any other non-gamer entities looking to capitalize on Minecraft's massive user community. For an idea of just how vast that base is, consider that, in 2014, creator Markus "Notch" Persson revealed that the PC version had over 100 million registered users. It's understandable that a pool of users that large would prove a tempting lure for brands that want to market their wholly unrelated wares to the community. But no more -- according to the new building promotion guidelines, it's no longer permissible to build servers or maps to "promote unrelated products in playable form." So what does that translate to? Well, you can say goodbye to awkward promotions like the giant, working cellphone CaptainSparklez made on behalf of Verizon, or Disney commissioning a map of Tomorrowland to promote its film of the same name. All that said, if you're a mega fan and you do these sorts of things on your own time and dime, well, that's just fine by Mojang.

  • Amazon Japan adds 12 new original series to Prime Video

    Amazon isn't wasting any time making good on its original programming plans for Japan. As part of its Prime Video service, which launched in September of last year, the company had announced plans to offer about 20 original shows tailored to that market. And today, Amazon Japan has unveiled a slate of originals detailing 12 new series that span a variety of genres, including documentaries, dramas and children's shows. Standouts include Magi, a time-traveling historical drama about teens that return to Japan to find Christianity's been banned; new versions of Ultraman and Kamen Rider; and manga adaptations like Businessmen vs. Aliens and Baby Steps. While some of these series are already available to stream now, others are planned to debut later in the year or even in 2017. It's also worth noting that Prime Video subscribers in Japan get access to these originals, as well as other Amazon series like Mozart in the Jungle for the bargain price of $32/year. Doesn't seem fair, now does it?

  • Facebook reportedly considering making Messenger more secure

    Facebook Messenger could be getting a significant security update this summer. According to The Guardian, the Zuckerberg-led company is looking to implement end-to-end encryption for its messaging app, which has over 900 million monthly active users. The planned feature, which Facebook would neither confirm nor deny, would also be opt-in and not activated by default. The reasoning for that lies with Facebook's larger goals for Messenger: making it a smart, assistive app. Already, the company's rolled out a Bots for Messenger feature that allows users to engage with and order services from brands.

  • Catch up with Computex 2016: Day one

    Computex is typically ASUS' show. Every year, the Taiwanese company takes to Taipei to unload a host of its wares and, in the process, steal the lion's share of the show's headlines. Well, 2016 is no different as ASUS has taken the wraps off a slew of devices including an ultraportable that's thinner than Apple's own MacBook, Surface-like 2-in-1 PCs, three new ZenFones, a charming robot assistant for the home and a me-too mobile VR headset. Don't fret if you whiled away the holiday weekend and need to get up to speed on day one of the show -- we've got you covered in the video above and the gallery below.

  • Australia to auction off confiscated bitcoins this June

    Australia has plans to sell off a considerable amount of bitcoins, the cryptocurrency favored by shady online folk, this June. 24,518 bitcoins confiscated by police will be auctioned off by financial services firm Ernst and Young in 2,000 blocks, an amount that equals just over a million US dollars given the current conversion rate. Australian authorities wouldn't specify where the bitcoins come from other than to say it was in conjunction with a crime. However, as the BBC points out, reports from 2013 indicate a similar quantity of bitcoins were seized in an online drug bust in Victoria. The upcoming auction will be open to bidders worldwide and could help set a precedent legalizing the currency for use in Australia, where it's still undergoing regulatory approval.

  • Can 'Warcraft' break the curse of the video game movie?

    There's a special place in cinema hell for video game movies. From 1993's cringeworthy Super Mario Bros. -- a high-profile abomination that even Nintendo wants to forget -- to the basic-cable-worthy schlock that was Mortal Kombat and even the underwhelming Jake Gyllenhaal-vehicle Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, games have failed to make the big screen translation. But that's precisely why director -- and son of the late, great David Bowie -- Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) agreed to tackle the theatrical debut of developer Blizzard's real-time strategy game Warcraft. "There's been a rough track record of movies based on video games," says Jones. "I do like the challenge. I like the idea of maybe making a film which is way better than anyone expected it to be because I know the expectations are all over the place."

  • The bible has been translated into emojis

    It was inevitable: The bible has been updated for the 21st century with a new... emoji translation. According to The Guardian, an anonymous translator, who prefers to be identified only by 😎, reworked the King James Version of the bible using unicode emoji, as well as common internet abbreviations and slang. The bible, appropriately titled Scripture 4 Millenials, took six months to complete, and was translated with a program created by Mx. 😎 that matched up 80 distinct emoji with 200 words. If you're curious (or pious) enough and are willing to part with $2.99, you can check out the 3,000-plus page work right now on iTunes.

  • The artist making physics and a conspiracy theory into music

    Peaches is her aunt. Jared Leto's a fan and so is Jean-Michel Jarre, who sent her to live with an indigenous tribe in the Amazon. She's modeled for high-end fashion events and composed for German theater. She's conducted magnetic resonance imaging studies on mutated HIV cells and had paintings featured in galleries in New York. She taught herself the piano at age 10. At 15, she successfully petitioned the Los Angeles courts to be home-schooled; one year later, she enrolled at the University of Maryland. Her upcoming album incorporates the synthesized sounds of actual stars, physics themes and pitch-shifting conspiracies linked to Bob Marley and Hitler. Her list of professional accomplishments puts other so-called pop culture multihyphenates to shame. She is Simonne Jones, and you will know her name.

  • Britney's new mobile game offers a piece of the pop princess

    First came Kim. Then came Katy. And now it's time for Britney, bitch. Vegas' pop-princess-in-residence is following in the digital footsteps of Kanye's notorious Instawife with a free-to-play mobile game out today on iOS and Android. Britney Spears: American Dream, the first release of a five-year deal with developer Glu Mobile, is described as narrative role-playing game. It positions you, the player, as an aspirational pop star seeking Britney's advice and approval, and, ultimately, fame in the finicky music industry. Despite headlining the game and providing access to her catalog of hits, however, Britney is mostly a side attraction.

  • TripIt puts travel on your wrist with Android Wear app

    TripIt's already given its mobile app a sleek overhaul for Apple's iOS and now it's Android's turn. The travel app's been updated to give users of Google-powered devices, including Android Wear enthusiasts, a cleaner layout and more helpful planning options. Now, the jet set can check-in for flights directly from the app, monitor a departures countdown timer, arrange for ground transportation and parking reservations, and even navigate using improved maps. The company's also also added the ability to merge related trips so you can easily keep track of your country-hopping. It's travel 21st century-style and it's available on your wrist.

  • Paris looks to Instagrammers to boost city museum visits

    Maybe you've heard the term "influencer." It's the moniker marketers have given to the heavy hitters of social media with considerable follower counts (often in the tens or hundreds of thousands). You know, the Kendall and Gigis currently dominating our world. Well, Paris Musées, the public institution that oversees 14 of the city's municipal museums, has cottoned on to this new media wave and is turning to Instagram as a platform to raise awareness and boost museum attendance. To promote its recently launched site, which houses a searchable digital collection of all the museums' works, Paris Musées has commissioned 10 Instagrammers from various art backgrounds to re-create or reinterpret some of these iconic works.

  • 'Rock Band VR' will only let you shred guitar

    Abandon all hope, ye Rock Banders who live to bang on the drums, lovingly 'pluck' that bass or croon like you're America's next top someone -- for now, at least. According to UploadVR, developer Harmonix has confirmed that its upcoming Rock Band VR for Oculus Rift will only be playable with the guitar. Harmonix had hinted as much this past March when we attended a Rift preview event, saying that support for those three other instruments would likely be left off the table. But it seems like the effort to put the "band" back together in VR was just too challenging for the developer's first Rift effort. Instead, Harmonix has decided to perfect the immersive experience using only the guitar, which requires a clip-on Oculus Touch controller to track its placement in the virtual space.

  • Tumblr Labs lets you experiment with new, optional settings

    Care to take some risks with your personal Tumblr? Well, today's your day as the microblogging platform's launched a new Labs feature to let users opt-in for "experimental features." The option, accessible via Tumblr's web interface, adds four settings offering varying levels of usefulness. There's one, themed posts, which the company cheekily notes will turn your Tumblr into a "beautiful illegible rainbow" since it aligns the color of your Tumblr with that of your posts (see? questionable utility). The other three available settings will, respectively, give users the ability to add a button to posts to track reblog history; add granular scheduling options; and grant access to something cryptically referred to as "Inside Tumblrs." As the company notes in some fine script on the Labs site, these experiments are in-development and therefore prone to not work or suddenly disappear at any given time. So tread carefully if you decide to participate. All you need is an active Tumblr and a desire to microblog dangerously.

  • The director of 'Madagascar' takes on the Wild West of VR

    As the writer/director of DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar, a blockbuster that spawned five sequels and one TV show, Eric Darnell could've easily hung up his hat and basked in his Hollywood legacy. But, instead, Darnell departed the studio he made famous last year to explore the "Wild West" of virtual reality with Baobab, an animation studio he co-founded alongside Maureen Fan, the former VP of games at Zynga. At this year's Tribeca Film Festival, the two debuted their first effort, Invasion!, a VR short featuring a lovable, alien-thwarting bunny rabbit and a prologue narrated by Ethan Hawke. "He's a big fan of VR, it turns out," says Darnell of Hawke's involvement.

  • Google's got a new travel app, but it's not ready for the masses

    Google's cooking up a new travel app that combines the best of Maps with Now, the company's prescient personal assistant. Except Trips, as it's apparently called, is not quite ready for primetime (or the Google Play store) as of yet. News of the app's existence comes via Dutch site AndroidWorld which obtained screenshots of Trips from Local Guides users, a community-driven offshoot of Google Maps.