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Robot payphone

Yep, the Federal Trade Commission still hates robocalls as much as you do. The agency has launched a contest where you'll get a $25,000 top prize if you develop technology that sends illegal automated telemarketing to a honeypot system, which makes it easier to study calls and catch perpetrators. You have up until the evening of June 15th to qualify your bot trap, and the winner will be decided at a Def Con showdown on August 9th. The payout certainly isn't large, but think of this as doing the country a favor -- you may save millions from listening to Rachel from card services over and over again.

[Image credit: SarahNW, Flickr]

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NC State vs. Rice

In an effort to bring the masses more sports news, the Associated Press plans to use automated tech for stories it wouldn't normally cover. The AP is working with the NCAA this spring to produce game reports across Division I baseball, Division I women's basketball and both Division II and III football. In the months to come, coverage will extend to Division II and III men's basketball -- probably just in time for next season. While the NCAA will provide the game stats, stories will leverage the tech that the AP already uses to automate thousands of earnings reports each quarter. "This will mean thousands of more stories on the AP wire, which will remain unmatched in the industry," said Barry Bedlan, the AP's deputy director of sports products. "Every college sports town will have some level of coverage." Local news outlets will certainly tap into the new feed, so hopefully small town beat reporters won't have to find a new niche.

[Image credit: Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images]

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Procedurally generated Minecraft terrain

Have you wondered how Minecraft can produce massive worlds that are still chock-full of little details, like elaborate cliff faces and waterfalls? PBS' Game/Show is more than happy to explain in a new video. As you'll see below, Mojang's game relies on procedural generation, which automatically creates environments and objects that are at once random, but guided by rules that maintain a consistent logic. Mountains are always rocky and sprinkled with snow, for example, while the low lands are typically full of grass and trees.

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The second generation of YotaPhone's dual-display smartphone is finally coming to the US, but not in the way you may expect. In an interview with PhoneScoop, the company's Matthew Kelly said that the e-ink display-toting device will be made available to backers on Indiegogo, of all places. The details have yet to be worked out, but the company is planning to offer early backers some sort of bonus for getting to the front of the line. If the sale is successful, then the device might even wind up hitting store shelves but, for now, it doesn't look as if any specific plans have been made. There's also no word on how much the US edition of the YotaPhone 2 will cost you, but considering that it's priced at nearly £600 ($917) in the UK, you can expect to be paying flagship prices for that extra screen.

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If you're holding out hope for a super-sized iPad Pro, Bloomberg is still in your corner. The outlet previously reported 12.9-inch iPad production could start as early as Q1 of this year, but now says suppliers are gearing up to start production in September. Citing delays in the supply of display panels, Bloomberg claims Apple will turn around sliding tablet sales with the still-unannounced new variant. Whatever the folks in Cupertino are up to, we hope that next time around the iPad Mini gets more upgrades to match its higher price.

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It's been a long road from where Valve started with VR. It was only a few shorts years ago that the company was letting select industry folk demo prototype VR hardware in its QR code-laden "Room." And now, Valve has its own consumer-facing VR headset, the HTC Vive; its own controller that looks like the space opera version of Sony's Move wand; and a positional-based tracking solution in Lighthouse VR. None of this has exactly caught us off guard -- Valve was always cagey when it came to questions of commercial hardware. But we weren't prepared for just how impressive the combination of all the VR tech truly is. In fact, our own Ben Gilbert called it the "best VR" he's experienced to date.

It's only fair, then, that Valve would want to look back on its own journey pioneering VR. And look back it did with a timeline of prototypes and R&D breakthroughs it had on display here at GDC. Care to take that walk down Valve's memory lane? Then treat yourself to the gallery below and be sure to head past the break for a video tour.

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If the news of Xbox games coming to HoloLens and Elite: Dangerous hitting Xbox One this summer wasn't nearly enough, Microsoft has a few other tidbits to share from this year's Game Developers Conference. First up: Redmond is bringing the Xbox Live SDK to Windows 10. It's part of the universal apps push that the outfit's making with its new operating system, and will give game developers of any size access to a "vast majority" of Xbox Live's services. It wouldn't be the first time Microsoft's done something like this, but let's hope it doesn't turn into another disaster like Games for Windows Live was. The post on Xbox Wire also mentions there will be a new tier of the company's online gaming service coming as well that specifically allows "any developer to engage with the Xbox Live community." We've reached out for clarification of exactly what that translates to.

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Currently, the HTC Vive is the only virtual reality headset that's part of Valve's Steam VR push. That's not because it's the only one, but because it's the only one we know about thus far. "You should think of the Vive as the first in the same way there are multiple Steam Machines," Valve president Gabe Newell told me this morning. In other words, Steam VR is an open platform supported by Valve. "We're building tools and hopefully they're valuable to hardware partners who want to do it. In some cases, we'll take the leadership role in shipping stuff. But we're really just building tools for other people to continue. So you'll see more headsets."

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Google Ireland

It's no secret that the US government wants companies to bring more of their offshore profits back home for the sake of taxes, and it's now exceptionally clear as to why. Bloomberg has sifted through financial filings and discovered that the top eight American tech firms, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, are keeping more than $420 billion overseas -- $69 billion of it added in just the past year. That's over a fifth of the $2.1 trillion held abroad by American companies, and would easily cover a lot of government expenses. A tax on Microsoft's recent profits alone ($29.6 billion) would cover NASA and the Commerce Department for a year; Apple ($23.3 billion) could take care of the Transportation Department and Social Security, and Oracle could foot the bill for the Labor Department.

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