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iTunes 12.2: New version a missed opportunity for Apple Music

Apple released a new version 12.2 of iTunes for OS X and Windows this week as part of the launch of its Apple Music service. The initial reactions from users are anything but positive. But aside from obvious bugs, there's a bigger problem: iTunes needed a revamp, not more features. By simply adding the subscription service, Apple squandered an opportunity for a fresh start.

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It's the Fourth of July and while that light show in the sky honors US independence, why not shine a little light on our DIY perseverance? To help celebrate this holiday, we've put together a collection of (even more) ingenious hacks that incorporate party essentials: lights, nighttime, fireworks, music, drinks and a bit of wild imagination. Want to watch the celebrations on TV like it's still the '80s? Will pumping up the volume help you fight fires? And just how do you innovate something as simple as sliced bread? DIY fanatics and gadget hacker extraordinaires have already done the legwork. All you need to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the (slide)show.

[Image: Styropyro / YouTube]

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'Minecraft' for Windows 10

Microsoft and Mojang don't just have a story-based Minecraft game to show at Minecon 2015 -- they're also revealing a beta version of Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition. This release will ditch the less than ideal Java code of desktop versions in favor of native Windows code, and shares some roots with the Pocket Edition you typically find on phones. You'll even get to build worlds with those mobile players through an update that should hit "soon" after the beta arrives. And to no one's surprise, the construction title will do a lot to take advantage of Windows 10's many Xbox tie-ins, such as 8-way multiplayer (both locally and on Xbox Live) and game video recording. The beta will be ready on July 29th, and it'll be free if you already have the existing PC version. If you're new to all this, it'll cost $10 to get in during the test phase.

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Recommended Reading highlights the best long-form writing on technology and more in print and on the web. Some weeks, you'll also find short reviews of books that we think are worth your time. We hope you enjoy the read.

Games-Nintendo-Shigeru Miyamoto

How Video Games Influenced Popular Music
by Hua Hsu
The New Yorker

Andrew Schartmann's new book, Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack, discusses how Nintendo's first dedicated sound designer completely changed music in games. Kondo's iconic music for that title not only provided some of the most memorable tunes of the era, but also influenced gaming and music for many years after. The New Yorker offers a brief glimpse at the book, explaining how Kondo's work changed video game development, too. "As a result of the collaboration behind Super Mario, during which graphics and audio were developed in tandem, games became more of an all-sensory experience," notes Hua Hsu.

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By Amber Case

Last month, over a billion people around the world suddenly knew the name and appearance of the very same woman, and simultaneously began exchanging opinions about her. And while the unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner is not news in the traditional sense, and there was no shortage of major events erupting around the globe at the same time, the Internet largely converged for several hours around discussions of who Caitlyn was, and what she stood for.

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The people behind Minecraft just kicked off Minecon 2015 with a bang. At the fan convention's opening ceremony, Mojang's Lydia Winters debuted the first trailer for Minecraft: Story Mode, an upcoming title from Telltale Games. Yep, the same developer that created video game tie-ins for Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. As you might expect, Minecraft: Story Mode combines the game's blocky aesthetic with a branching, narrative-based adventure. Players will take control of Jesse, who has to find the fabled "Order of the Stone" with his friends to save the world from destruction. There's a panel later today with the Mojang and Telltale folks, so we're expecting to hear a lot more then.

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FRANCE-POLITICS-INTELLIGENCE-DGSE

France has joined the US and UK on an ignoble list of countries intercepting international communications, according to a report from L'Observateur. The news follows a Wikileaks article detailing how the NSA recorded highly sensitive calls placed by three different French Presidents. The paper noted that since France was allegedly doing something similar, it may explain why President Francois Hollande had a muted response to the earlier revelation, calling it merely "unacceptable." Meanwhile, it's getting hard to keep track of who's spying on who without a cheat sheet -- not even counting spying done by nations on their own citizens.

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While many in the US are relaxing for the July 4th holiday, the folks at Apple Music and Tidal are hard at work trying to push their respective subscription music services. Apple has already announced plans for a Dr. Dre radio show on Beats 1 that will debut Saturday night, after airing shows hosted by artists Q-Tip and Run the Jewels on Friday. Just to add on, Apple Music revealed it nabbed the exclusive for Eminem's "music film" Phenomenal. Not to be outdone, Tidal came through with a surprise exclusive drop of Lil Wayne's new album, FWA, aka the Free Weezy Album. Whether or not those match your personal taste, it's evident both are gunning hard for the current subscription streaming leader, Spotify, to power the playlist at your barbecue this weekend. As far as Spotify and the rest, well, at least they have AC/DC too.

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Macro of hands with bubble wrap

Bubble Wrap is one of mankind's greatest inventions. It protects our online orders from becoming rubble in a delivery van, but more importantly, it doubles as pure, joyous entertainment. Pop, pop, pop. There's nothing quite like it. That's why we were shocked to hear that Sealed Air, the creator of Bubble Wrap, has developed a new version that doesn't pop. But wait! Before you grab your digital pitchfork, understand that there's some method to the madness. Bubble wrap, due to all that trapped air, takes up a ton of space in company warehouses and delivery trucks. iBubble Wrap, its potential successor, is sold in super-thin sheets and inflated later on with a pump. It takes up roughly one-fiftieth of the space, meaning more can be shipped to and stored by e-commerce companies.

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The Solar Impulse 2 is a solar-powered plane that has been flying around the world since March. Back in May, it was set to make its most ambitious journey yet, a 5,061-mile trip from Japan to Hawaii. Unfortunately, though, Pilot Andre Borschberg's initial attempt was unexpectedly cut short (as has happened before), this time due to inclement weather. Now, several weeks later, he's finally accomplished his mission. Borschberg landed in Kapolei, Hawaii on Friday, following a five-day, 118-hour flight from Nagoya -- the longest-ever solo nonstop flight. The previous record was 76 hours.

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Mi Band 1S

Chinese phone maker Xiaomi has made a name for itself by delivering premium devices at budget prices. As well as phones and tablets, Xiaomi also sells accessories, including the Mi Band fitness tracker. After almost a year on sale, China's biggest mobile manufacturer feels the time is right to update its popular wearable, and thanks to Taiwan's National Communications Commission, we now know that it will come with its very own heart-rate monitor. The Mi Band 1S retains the same design as its predecessor, complete with aluminum cap, but features a new sensor on the back that's designed to stay in constant contact with a user's skin.

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If you survive a plane crash but your emergency locator transmitter (ELT) doesn't, it'd be a cruel irony if rescuers never found you. But NASA, of all agencies, has crashed a light airplane to make those devices stronger and better. "It's not obvious to the public what NASA does with search and rescue," says SAR mission manager Lisa Mazzuca, referring to NASA's role in improving aviation safety. She explains that ELTs are supposed to automatically transmit distress signals to satellites after aircraft accidents, so "NASA's here to innovate that technology, which will ultimately improve the probability of a successful rescue." The problem? ELTs often fail "because of inadequate performance specifications."

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