iPhone “Pause” app is designed around your brainwaves and Tai Chi to help you relax

Your phone may be a constant source of distraction, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Amid endless notifications and bombardment of visual stimuli, it may be hard to conceive your smartphone as a place of peaceful refuge. However, ustwo (the creators of the massively popular Monument Valley game) set out to turn that conception on its head.

Introducing Pause, ustwo has created an app that aims to help you relax to a calmer state of mind. Pause brings “focused attention” to your iPhone’s screen, and is grounded in cognitive psychology and physiology resulting in a patent-pending technique to activate the restoration process and relaxation response.

Pairing up with PauseAble, the app is inspired by Tai Chi with slow and continuous movements. Essentially, it’s Tai Chi for your thumb, using a mix of sound and stimulation to keep your attention away from distracting and stressful thoughts.

Learn more about the app at its website here, and purchase it for $2 USD on the App Store.

Free Sakura app means cherry blossoms could be blooming on your monitor right now

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As of yesterday, it’s officially cherry blossom season in Tokyo, with media outlets reporting the first flowers of the year spotted inside the capital. While we’re still a week or two away from the sakura being in full bloom, their incredibly short life span means they’ll be gone before you know it, so most people are looking to spend as much time watching the delicate pink flowers as they can in the coming days.

Much as we’d like to, though, most of us can’t spend all of the next few weeks stretched out on the grass under a cherry tree. But should you find yourself stuck in front of a computer monitor with work or social responsibilities to take care of, you can still soak up a bit of the cherry blossom atmosphere with this app that produces a cloud of sakura petals on your desktop.

Developer Studio-Kura doesn’t throw any curveballs in the naming of its newest Mac app. The program is called Sakura, and that’s exactly what it gives you.

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Given the short window in which cherry blossoms bloom, it’s always a roll of the dice what sort of conditions you’ll be able to see them in. The Sakura app gives you a bit more control, though. By adjusting a series of sliders, you can increase or decrease the volume of petals flittering down from the top of your monitor, adjust the force of the wind blowing them about, and even make the pink flowers more opaque or translucent, depending on your preferences. There’s also a toggle that allows you to choose whether the sakura appear in front of or behind inactive windows.

Previously, Studio-Kura had been distributing the program directly, but Sakura is now available here on the Mac App Store, free of charge. Just be careful not to spend so long staring transfixed at the beautiful virtual cherry blossoms that you miss your chance to see the real ones.

McDonald’s Japan to release “complaint app” to help restore faith in the company

RocketNews 24:

The once mighty fast food chain McDonald’s has fallen on hard times in Japan lately, suffering a heavy blow when it become entangled in an expired meat scandal about a year ago.

Although other establishments were also implicated in the problem, the public in Japan seems to be holding an especially big grudge against the golden arches. On 9 March, the company announced that Japanese sales were down 28.7 percent from the same month in the previous year.

In response, McDonald’s Japan is looking to improve its customer service and restore public faith in the company. How? By releasing a new app for smartphones that will allow customers to lodge complaints with more convenience and speed than ever before!

Yes, much like the chain’s machine-like efficiency at serving up burgers and fries, it will now be just as quick and easy to tell them how much you are worried you may have Ebola because of something you read on the internet.

Up until now, McDonald’s has operated a call center for complaints and requests, but it was only open during standard business hours of nine to five. And as we all know, customer rage can strike at any time of the day.

The new app will allow disgruntled customers to deliver piping hot Mc-beefs to the fast food giant 24 hours a day. McDonald’s intends this feature to also allow customers to make suggestions about the direction in which the company should head in the future. This means that they can expect me to be constantly badgering them from the comfort of my bed about bringing back McPizza.

The McMoanin’ application is sure to be great fun for drunks and belligerent RocketNews24 writers alike, but it’s hard to say how well it will fly with the public at large who have been turning their backs on McDonald’s in droves for 13 straight months of poor sales.

 

 

Filipino American co-founder of Snapchat, 26-year-old Bobby Murphy, is 2nd youngest billionaire in world

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Snapchat co-founder Bobby Murphy

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The Filipino-American co-founder of Snapchat is the world’s second youngest billionaire on Forbes’ Billionaire list. 

Bobby Murphy, 26, is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine. The baby-faced Murphy made his fortune from Snapchat, along with his friend Evan Spiegel, who at 24, is the world’s youngest billionaire.

Snapchat is a popular temporary photo messaging app. It is currently valued at $10 billion and has 100 million users a month. Forbes estimates both Murphy and Spiegel have a 15 percent stake each in Snapchat.

Murphy, whose mother emigrated from the Philippines, grew up in Berkley, California. Murphy and Spiegel met while they were students at Stanford University. They were both members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Murphy was a mathematics and computational science major, while Spiegel was in the product-design program.

In an interview with Forbes magazine in 2013, Murphy said they “weren’t cool (in college), so we tried to build things to be cool.”

They first worked together to develop an online software called Future Freshmen, but it didn’t take off. For their next project, a fellow Stanford student and friend, Reggie Brown (who would later sue the company for ownership), came up with suggestion for an app to send disappearing photos.

Spiegel decided to tap Murphy, who had just graduated, to develop the app. It was originally named Picaboo.

After the company received a cease-and-desist letter from a photobook company of the name, they changed the app to “Snapchat.” Spiegel called this the “biggest blessing ever.”

Evan and I got started Snapchat in the summer of 2011, basically understood that visual content that was the most engaging, interesting form of content there was. We wanted to create a way that would enable that to be a means of communication, rather than a piece of content around which communication actually happens,” Murphy said during a Google Cloud Platform Live session in 2014.

Spiegel is the good-looking, outspoken public face of Snapchat, while Murphy, the chief technology officer (CTO), is the brains who developed the app. Little is known about Murphy, who was described by Forbes, as the son of state employees from Berkeley.

I’d describe him almost like a monk,” David Kravitz, Snapchat’s first employee, told Forbes in 2013. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him upset.”

Snapchat founders Evan Spiegel (left) and Bobby Murphy at the Time 100 gala in New York, April 29, 2014.

HTC (Taiwan) teams up with Under Armour for a fitness wearable

HTC has announced it will be releasing its first wearable with the help of Under Armour, who will be supplying the tracking software for the fitness band. The waterproof Grip wrist band is the first in a series of co-branded products, and will feature a pedometer, GPS and an integrated “Record” tracking portal which aggregates sleep, steps, active time, distance, workouts, calories burned and weight. It can also be connected with a phone to receive and respond to notifications via the 1.8-inch curved monochrome touchscreen.

Though an official release date has yet to be announced, expect the HTC Grip to be available at select retailers in North America beginning in Spring 2015.

Olympus Air A01 offers varying lens quality and connects to your Smartphone

Ronin sets a new standard for turn-based ninja stealth-action tactical platformers

“Oh man, Gunpoint,” the person standing behind me at the demo station exclaimed. “I love Gunpoint!”

I wasn’t playing Gunpoint, though you could be forgiven for thinking so — I was actually playing Ronin, a clever action-platformer from indie developer Tomasz Waclawek, on the show floor of PAX South. One of the game‘s core mechanics — a superhuman, arcing leap, which you can use to smash through windows and knock down foes — is remarkably similar to a mechanic that made Gunpoint a standout game back in 2013. Fortunately, the similarities stop there.

Ronin initially launched last year as a freeware game, which Waclawek has improved upon for the full game, which launches later in 2015. In it, you play a vengeful ninja, who, in addition to super-leaping, can climb walls and ceilings, swing on grappling hooks, drop holographic decoys to distract foes, teleport between said decoys and execute foes with a slice (or a throw) of their sword. It’s as fast and as slick as you’d expect a ninja-led action-platformer to be — unless you’re in combat, when it turns into a contemplative turn-based game.

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In what may just be the most difficult-to-explain scheme ever conceived, entering an enemy’s field of vision brings the game to a screeching halt, giving you an opportunity to execute one of your deadly acrobatic maneuvers. The action, from this point on, takes place in second-long chunks. Enemies spend one turn lining up their shots or charging melee attacks, which are represented by red lines on the screen. During your one-second chunk, you have to devise a plan to avoid those attacks (which kill you in one hit) or incapacitate your potential attackers.

What makes that idea so brilliant is the game’s ninja locomotion itself. You have to be extremely precise with your movements, because your turn can, and most often will, end in the middle of your jump — and if you happen to be in an enemy’s crosshair when that happens, you’re toast. Trickier still is deciding how to spend your next mid-air turn. Do you throw your blade at a distant foe, leaving you vulnerable until you can recover it? Do you Spider-Man swing out of danger? Or do you continue the arc of your original jump into the fray?

It’s a surprisingly exciting combat system, one that rewards deft maneuvers with combo multipliers and score bonuses. It’s also completely optional — if you can stay in the dark, or on ceilings above unassuming foes, you can stealth-kill the lot of them without ever entering into turn-based mode. It’s not nearly as flashy, of course, but it gets the job done.

Ronin will launch this fall on PC, Mac and Linux. It might be easier to understand if you see it in action — which you can do in the trailer posted below.

Historical Japanese swords turn into battle-hardened Blade Boys in new mobile game

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RocketNews 24:

These days, one of the quickest and most popular methods for stocking a video game with a cast of attractive anime-style characters is to pick a class of item and anthropomorphize the heck out of it. There’s currently no hotter mobile game than Kantai Collection, in which players command a fleet of pretty girls who’re all modeled after World War II-era Japanese warships. If naval history isn’t your thing, you can also find titles featuring comely cars and moe mushrooms.

There’s a new entry in the subgenre though, and judging from its all-pretty boy roster of characters, it’s been designed with female otaku gamers in mind. As such, it’s no surprise that the men of Touken Ranbu are all based on something long and hard…plus sharp, as they’re all anthropomorphized swords.

Smartphone game publisher DNN released Touken Ranbu, or Violent Blade Dance, on January 14. With such a warlike title and development being handled by Nitro Plus, the same unit behind busty anime mascot Super Sonico, you might expect Touken Ranbu to be a testosterone-dripping smorgasbord of boobs and swordfights, but the truth is very different.

In recent years, there’s been a surge of interest in historical samurai among young Japanese women, who find themselves drawn to their old-school stoicism and gallantry. More than anyone else, it’s for that demographic that Touken Ranbu’s cast of dudes with smooth facial features and elaborate hairdos was crafted.

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The game’s plot actually starts in 2205, when historical revisionists stage a literal attack on the past in order to alter Japan’s history. The player steps into the role of the saniwa, an entity with the power to awaken the souls of inanimate objects and imbue them with fighting strength. As such, it’s your job to transform the swords of Japan’s feudal era into an army of Touken Danshi, or Blade Boys.

▼ Mikatzuki Munechika, the Heian Era sword (left) and Blade Boy (right)

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Early reviews describe the game as easy to pick up and play, with a streamlined system for equipping characters with special items and simple combat system. While the player assembles squads of up to six members and issues commands to advance or retreat in battle, the Blade Boys will do the rest of their fighting more or less automatically.

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Female otaku in Japan are generally drawn to male characters with tragic pasts, and Touken Ranbu’s theme gives the creators ample sadness to mine. Since the cast all started as inanimate killing instruments, they’ve seen numerous deaths, oftentimes including those of their owners. A few were even used for seppuku, the samurai act of ritual suicide, and carry the psychological burden of having been party to the act.

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As a result, gamers can expect plenty of scenes in which they try to help the Blade Boys work through their emotional baggage. But while many games would use this as a springboard to a romantic relationship, Touken Ranbu keeps such rumblings of the heart low-key, which should help it appeal to the widest possible female fanbase in Japan.

By never definitively stating who the characters have a crush on, Nitro Plus can simultaneously appeal to the three major groups of pretty boy game fans, the fujoshi(who want to see the guys hook up with other guys), the danjo kapu mono (coming from danjo kappuringu mono, or “heterosexual coupling fans”), and the “dreamers”(who’d like to imagine themselves as the object of the affections of the hot guys on screen).

▼ Mixed in among the 19 sword-based characters announced so far is Otegine, who’s actually a Muromachi Period spear.

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The lack of explicit romantic content means that as long as they can get past the female-oriented character designs, heterosexual male gamers should be able to get some enjoyment out of Touken Ranbu’s story too. Serving as world view director and main writer is Yuri Shibamura, who wrote the script for video game-tuned-anime Gunparade March.

Also contributing to the project is Norimitsu Kaiho, whose previous credits include a handful of Guilty Gear games and episodes of mecha anime TV series Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.

Regardless of which facet of the game strikes your fancy, Token Ranbu can be downloaded here directly from DMM.

Struggling with Japanese? Let Tako lend you a hand… or tentacle.

RocketNews 24:

Yes, I know octopi have eight tentacles not six, but Tako of Takos Japanese has five. It’s the same cartoon logic that makes the Simpson family all have eight fingers. And yes, I know the name should probably read “Tako’s Japanese.” Really though, let’s not get bogged down in talk of appendages and apostrophes right now.

Today we’re here to look at a new Japanese study app released by Spain-based Giant Soul Interactive. A lot of Japanese study apps found online are either fun but limited in content or deep but boring and stodgy. Learn Japanese with Tako (recently changed from “Takos Japanese”) aims to strike a happy balance of a fun way to learn the language that’s also rich in content. Let’s find out if they succeed.

■ Brings the cute

In Learn Japanese with Tako you assume the role of the titular Tako, a young octopus studying the ways of reading and writing Japanese. You are aided by a wise old octopus in the ways of properly writing in the three language sets hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

The animated menus and practice areas are all brightly colored and downright cute, which really goes a long way to help you forget that you’re essentially doing handwriting and reading drills. More than just an added frill, the entertaining style of it helps keep you focused on the task at hand.

■ Handwriting Practice

It starts by teaching the hiragana alphabet and uses Latin characters as references. First, Sensei demonstrates the proper stroke order and direction of the characters on a white board which you can follow along.

A common weakness of these kinds of apps is in the handwriting recognition. In an old kanji study app I would sometimes have to write something as simple as the number “2” 20 times before it could register as anything other than “N.” Learn Japanese with Tako, however, seems to understand our handwriting with a good degree of leniency.

It’s not too loose though. I got marked down as not learning my あs (Japanese equivalent of the letter “A”) because my loop at the bottom right was hanging a little too low and it pissed-off Sensei octopus. However, rather than the confusing mess of the “2=N” fiasco, this app let me understand what it was about my あ that led to the problem and allowed me to correct it accordingly. As a result I’d like to think my handwriting is now just a little bit prettier.

■ Mini-Games

After learning the basic writing and reading of the characters you are given a mini-game to review. They all focus on memorizing the characters in different ways. For example, my weak point has always been remembering the correct pronunciation of kanji despite knowing the meanings. This means I’d benefit from the Izakaya mini-game the most.

In this game we have to serve the various sea creatures their order label in kanji as they call out for them phonetically. Like all the games it’s timed which adds a good level of challenge and pressure. There’s also a whack-a-mole game requiring even faster matching of character and pronunciations. Even more advanced students of Japanese might find themselves scrambling with basic words on this one.

Other games include an arcade machine where you have to memorize the order of flashing kanji with their English meanings. There’s also a baseball game which requires speedy handwriting skills. They’re all pretty fun and simple games that you can play whenever you have a minute or two.

■ Room for more

Learn Japanese with Tako starts with hiragana then moves into katakana and beginner kanji. As of this writing it offered up to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5 level but they plan to roll out N4 in the coming months. That should be more than enough content for those just starting out learning the language but for people further along it only serves as a nice brush-up program for the moment.

Also, although the games are fun and well designed, it remains to be seen what replay value they have, especially for people just starting out. Learning Japanese can be a long haul and the games will have to be addictive enough to sustain that journey. To address this concern, Giant Soul say there are currently working on expanding the types of mini-games based on user-feedback.

Overall though, Takos Japanese is a very well designed study app both in terms of presentation and educational value, and it has a solid, sleek interface. Another great feature is that in addition to English,the app is available in Spanish, Korean, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German.

▼ Why not switch the language setting and learn two languages at once!

For anyone starting out in Japanese it would be a great tool well worth its 400-yen (US$3.40) asking price the Japanese app store (prices may vary according to region). For those further along, you might want to wait until if they add the higher level kanji. Hopefully they can soon!

Takos Japanese is available from

iTunes
Google Play
Amazon

Cats as Sushi: A bizarre Japanese ad series

Cats as sushi: a bizarre Japanese ad series
Laughing Squid:

Sushi Cats (Neko-Sushi) by the Japan-based company Tange & Nakimushi Peanuts are a series of photographs of cute dressed up felines resting on top of sushi rice. According to the History of Sushi Cats video (seen below), the cats are a magical and historical creature that have been influencing humans since the beginning of time. Tange & Nakimushi Peanuts has released a mobile game app for iPhone and Android phones featuring the Sushi Cats.

They also have an online store that offers photo prints, postcards and more (only available in Japan).

Neko-Sushi is an extremely unusual life-form consisting of a cat on top of a portion of sushi rice.
Although several references have come down to us through history from various researchers and witnesses, their existence is still shrouded in mystery and actual sightings remain rare.

There are several academics who have devoted their lives to the study of these creatures. According to a number of these, Neko-Sushi make use of gaps in space to come to us from an alternate dimension. Beyond these “gaps” lies the world of the Neko-Sushi in which, it is recently understood, lies the true identity of the cats that dwell with us here in the human dimension.

 

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