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Project Ara is surely one of the most exciting things Google is working on right now -- at least from the ones we're aware of. Better yet, given how young it is, chances are it will only keep getting better and more interesting. While speaking at a Purdue University event, Google's Paul Eremenko, director of Project Ara, recently revealed that the company will be taking a cue from the Play store to create a similar shopping experience for its modular smartphone. What this means, essentially, is you'd be able to buy or sell different components from a single hub, just as is the case now with apps, music, books and more on Google Play -- and it would also include reviews and recommendations. Eremenko didn't mention any details related to the status of Project Ara, but you can check out the full talk after the break.

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COMPUTER CHESS

The battle of wits between IBM and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov is one of the biggest moments in the history of artificial intelligence. After conceding defeat, the Russian suggested that the IBM team had cheated their way to a victory, something that the company, to this day, refutes. A new film, from Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, seeks to shed some light on the accusation and what prompted his allegations. Directed by Hollywood uber-producer Frank Marshall, the documentary examines the controversial 44th move and how a simple computer error proved to be Kasparov's undoing.

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map of the silicon valley...

Ever heard of Electronics for Imaging? We hadn't either until this morning, but it's apparently a multimillion dollar, multinational, public corporation based out of Fremont, California. And the United States Department of Labor just caught EFI red-handed in an investigation, which found that "about eight employees" were flown in from India to work 120-hour weeks for $1.21 per hour. EFI apparently thought it was okay to pay the employees the same wages they'd be paid in India (in Indian rupees). Here's the unbelievably crazy sounding quote EFI gave to NBC's Bay Area affiliate: "We unintentionally overlooked laws that require even foreign employees to be paid based on local US standards."

Just so we're clear: is there anyone reading this who doesn't know that any person working in the United States is legally required to be compensated according to United States laws?

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Ray guns are high on the list of "physics gone wrong" movie tropes. Unlike the real thing, the blasts are much slower than light, visible in clear air and (depending on who's firing) highly inaccurate. However, laser physicists in Poland have just shown what a powerful laser really looks like. Though no camcorder can follow a light beam, the team used a high-speed camera timed with rapid pulses to simulate a beam traveling through the air. They also added water vapor jets midway to show the plasma ionization (we have no idea what the ghost-like people were doing, though). While the laser fired infrared light, the white beams are actually plasma filaments that formed alongside the pulse. The interaction between the pulse and plasma makes it possible to have a "self-focusing" laser that can be fired far into the atmosphere to detect pollution, for instance. Anyway, you don't need to justify your work to us, Polish scientists -- you had us at "laser videos."

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Scientists, we're told, need to be very good at record keeping in order to make sure that others can follow their logic. It's just a shame that whoever was running the photography archive at CERN wasn't paying attention during that lesson. The European research outfit is digitizing its archive of around 120,000 photos taken between 1955 and 1985. Unfortunately, some of the images aren't labelled, which makes it hard to identify the scientists in the pictures, or the equipment that they're using. That's why CERN is asking that if anyone does know the people or hardware, that they email in and help get the database up to date. In order to help, we've had a go ourselves, although we're sure that you out there can do a much better job.

[Image Credit: CERN]

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Viewed through the idea that it's a standalone expansion to Sid Meier's Civilization 5, Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth streamlines gameplay in the long-running strategy series to enhance the pace of the historically-strapped franchise. As a spiritual successor to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, however, it's a cut-rate disappointment.

Beyond Earth is best described as an epilogue to the events of Civilization 5. Humanity has ruined the planet and must commit itself to starting all over again on another rock and potentially making the same mistakes. And so, various nations make conglomerate factions and shoot for another spherical mass to explore, expand, exploit and exterminate (4X) on in the strategy game.

Why I wish Firaxis had never mentioned Beyond Earth as a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri is that this game doesn't look like it was given the financial resources to kick off a new franchise. It feels like it had the budget of a Civ 5 expansion, where asset creation went into making a visually interesting game world, but not its overall presentation. The characters are painfully dull and inarticulate. The tech and wonder voiceovers are all done by one person, but in many cases are attributed to faction leaders within the game (who do have their own voices). The experience doesn't feel luxe. Firaxis has been the benchmark in accessible strategy games and it's owned by triple-A publisher Take-Two Interactive, but I've seen stronger production values from independent European competitors.

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The folks in Microsoft's Xbox One update preview program are a pretty privileged bunch. Hot on the heels of this week's announcement that the next patch for its new console will bring custom backgrounds, Redmond's giving that access to the testers starting today. This is in addition to the ability to use a custom color or achievement image for your backdrop, and comes as an update to the system's media player app. Sounds pretty simple to use, too: just open the JPEG or PNG file of choice from a USB drive, hit the controller's menu button and choose to set the image as a background. What's more, the outfit has even posted a Photoshop template for calculating just what in your picture will and won't be obscured by the Xbox One's tile-filled dashboard. Voila, now you'll have something other than the infinite blackness of eternal night to occupy the system's UI.

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oxford university

Google is assembling a team comprising some of the world's most renowned artificial intelligence researchers to create... something? Back in January, Google bought A.I. company DeepMind for a reported $400 million, and no one really knew why. Now, it's announcing a partnership with the Oxford University to further its research into image and language recognition. As part of the partnership, Google has acqui-hired two companies born from the renowned university. They are Dark Blue Labs, a startup focused on natural language understanding, and Vision Factory, which describes itself as offering "world-class, scientifically-proven object recognition and text recognition systems." All seven founders of the two companies will be joining Google, which is hoping the move will accelerate efforts to improve speech and image recognition through "deep learning," a type of artificial intelligence that mirrors biological neural networks.

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Ordinarily, people talking during a movie is our idea of hell, but in Mystery Science Theater 3000's case, we're more than happy to allow it. The thing is, unless you've got a pop culture brain that'd make Tarantino blush, you're not going to know enough to get the joke. That's why a group calling themselves The Annotated MST have been painstakingly researching and explaining every single gag from the show so you don't feel left out. Thankfully, the group has teamed up with Shout! Factory, MST3k's DVD label, to release a fully-amended and legitimate copy of Mitchell onto YouTube (after the break) that you can switch on and off depending on if you need a joke explained. Just be glad they don't have this sort of thing in real life, or else no-one would go to the cinema ever again.

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Partial solar eclipse at sunset moment

Google Now has just added more cards to its ever-increasing arsenal, and this time, they'll help you prepare for eclipses and possibly dangerous situations. The new eclipse card lists almost everything you need to know about the phenomenon, including what it is, how to make a pinhole projector to view it and how to photograph it safely. If you can see the card right now, then you're most likely somewhere in North America, and the partial solar eclipse tomorrow will be visible where you live, weather permitting. The second card, on the other hand, shows you any police activity happening in your area and nearby places, though an Android Police commenter suggests the card isn't exactly new, just rare. Sure, getting one of these cards might be a bit stressful, since nobody wants to hear that there are bad guys prowling around their neighborhood. But at least it can let you know when to be extra careful or to avoid places where there's trouble.

[Image credit: Zhan Tian/Getty]

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