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Prolific swatter and bomb hoaxer who broke up FCC’s net neutrality vote pleads guilty – TechCrunch

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It was a dramatic moment during the FCC’s net neutrality proceedings last December when the Commission’s public meeting was abruptly evacuated and bomb squads moved in — all while thousands watched on the live stream. The person who called in that threat has just entered a guilty plea to that and numerous other crimes, including a SWAT hoax that killed a man last December.

Tyler Barriss is a California (not Kansas, as I wrote earlier; the fatal shooting took place in Kansas) resident who has racked up dozens of charges of swatting, calling in bomb threats and other “pranks” that have proven to be anything but.

Swatting is the practice of calling the police and convincing them a dangerous armed person is at a given address in order to provoke an aggressive response by police or SWAT officers — a response that can be disastrous or fatal.

The latter was the result of one particular call Barriss made in December of 2017. He had done it like he’d done many others, for a favor or for money — this time sending the police to the former home of an acquaintance’s Call of Duty rival. The officers shot and killed the current resident of that home, and Barriss — who made no secret of his involvement — was arrested shortly afterwards. It had only been about a year since he was released from prison for similar crimes.

Today Barriss, who was 25 when he was arrested in January, pleaded guilty to a number of charges that had been filed under a variety of jurisdictions. Among them was the bomb threat called in to the FCC, but the sheer variety of schools, malls and homes he threatened, as documented in an indictment, is disturbing.

In simultaneously depressing and haunting Twitter conversations disclosed during the trial, Barriss and his target are seen exchanging direct messages, sparring over each other’s cred and making light of the swatting attempt.

Barriss had in fact called the cops, and convinced them to show up to the address Gaskill had given.

And Gaskill soon found out that his attempt to troll Barriss had resulted in a man’s death:

All three were charged with various crimes (Gaskill and Viner await trial), but Barriss with his long, well-documented history of swatting and bomb threats, was the clear priority. The terms of his guilty plea aren’t documented yet but it would be hard to get away from significant time in prison even if he managed to dodge half of the charges he faced.

Update: The Associated Press reports that Barriss pleaded guilty to 51 counts, and faces up to 25 years in prison. Sentencing is set for January 30.

It’s a sad story from start to finish, but at least the bad guy didn’t get away.

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Internal Activision Blizzard petition rebukes “abhorrent, insulting” leadership

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In the wake of a sexual harassment and pay-disparity lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard, an internal petition has begun circulating at the gaming company. Its text, as independently verified by multiple outlets, comes down against leadership’s public and private response to the suit’s allegations.

Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier and Kotaku’s Ethan Gach reprinted content from the same petition, and both reporters claim that the petition has racked up “over 1,000 signatures” from current and former Activision Blizzard staffers as of press time. The petition begins by describing a public company statement offered in the wake of July 20’s lawsuit, and a private, staffwide memo sent by Activision executive vice president Frances Townsend, as “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for.”

“We will not be silenced”

Activision Blizzard’s statements from lawyers and executives last week alleged that the California State’s lawsuit’s allegations were “distorted, and in many cases false,” and the petition aims its words squarely at that characterization. The letter argues that such a corporate response “creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims” and “casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future.”

The petition continues:

Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action—and the troubling official responses that followed—we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.

It concludes with a call for the company to make public statements that acknowledge “the seriousness of these allegations” and for Townsend to “step down” from her position at the Activision Blizzard King Employee Women’s Network. “We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again,” the petition adds in closing. “We will be the change.”

After the lawsuit was filed, many former Activision Blizzard staffers used social media to add their own allegations to the public record and confirm their individual contributions to the California State investigation. In one of the longest and most detailed lists of recent public allegations, a former Blizzard staffer (and creator of the company’s first internal “Women@Blizzard” mailing list) alleged the following:

  • A repeated experiment proved that a project director would turn down ideas proposed by a woman, then would approve the same ideas as offered by male colleagues days later.
  • A senior white male engineer had a reputation for unsnapping women’s undergarments through their shirts at the workplace, and concerned staffers were told to “get over it” as they watched said engineer get “repeatedly promoted and rewarded.”
  • Leadership refused a staffer’s use of Blizzard branding to create an “It Gets Better” video that supported LGBTQIA youth—and was told “We won’t be doing that, here.”

“You told me to stick to what I’m good at”

The linked thread points to other public allegations made by former staffers, which range from individual allegations to larger complaints about staffwide culture at Blizzard and Activision. One of these is a reply to former Blizzard executive Chris Metzen, who used Twitter to distance himself from Alex Afrasiabi—himself a former leader of the World of Warcraft team, who is named in the California State lawsuit as an alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment and assault. The reply to Metzen, from ex-Blizzard staffer Connie Griffith, alleged that “you are the one who told me I should stick to what I’m good at, which was apparently taking notes and organizing meetings. Way to mentor junior female talent.”

Speaking of Afrasiabi, an unearthed video from BlizzCon 2010 began circulating shortly after the lawsuit was filed. It showed Afrasiabi, current Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, and other WoW leadership responding to a woman’s question about wanting characters in the game that “don’t look like they stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog.” The all-male panel responded with multiple jokes disparaging the question, with one in particular asking, “which catalog would you like them to step out of?”

This video’s recirculation prompted one of the panel’s members, former WoW lead designer Greg Street, to acknowledge the video on Twitter and reply flatly, “Look, it was a shitty answer at the time, and it certainly hasn’t aged well. I wish I had said something better back then.” He proceeded to insist that, “no doubt, that won’t be my last shitty answer,” then doubled down and claimed that “the only way to get better is to [talk to players] a lot,” without acknowledging one key allegation brought up again and again in the wake of the Golden State lawsuit: that Blizzard leadership often failed to listen to, acknowledge, and make space for women’s concerns—and even retaliated against those who did so.

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Valve promises Steam Deck will run “the entire Steam library” at 30+ fps

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Valve expects that its recently announced Steam Deck portable gaming console will be able to run “really the entire Steam library” on its 1280×800 LCD screen at frame rates of 30 fps or higher.

That’s according to a recent IGN video interview in which Valve Hardware Engineer Yazan Aldehayyat said that “all the games that we wanted to be playable had really good [performance], a really good experience” in Steam Deck testing. Valve developer Pierre-Loup Griffais expanded on that by saying that “all the games that we wanted to be playable” means “really the entire Steam library. We haven’t really found something we could throw at this device that it couldn’t handle yet.”

Griffais said initial prototype testing for the Steam Deck focused on older games in the Steam catalog and that there were “games that were coming out last year that just couldn’t really run very well on the previous types of prototypes and architectures we were testing.” On the finalized version of the hardware, though, he said the company has “achieved the level of performance that is required to run the latest generation of games without a problem.”

“The entire Steam catalog is available to people who have this device,” Aldehayyat added. “That’s where we knew we had a product that was going to deliver the experience we were looking for.”

Aldehayyat attributed Steam Deck’s wide compatibility in part to “future-proofing” internals that include a custom APU incorporating AMD’s latest generation of GPU and CPU technology, as well as 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM. Griffais added that the extreme performance scalability of modern PC games also helps Steam Deck achieve a playable frame rate at its native 800p resolution (which is relatively low compared to desktop gaming PCs).

“If people are still valuing high frame rates and high resolutions on different platforms, I think that content will scale down to our 800p, 30Hz target very well,” he said. “If people start heavily favoring image quality, we might be in a position where we might have tradeoffs, but we’re not in a position where we really see that yet.”

In a follow-up tweet late last week, Griffais clarified that the 30 fps target is the “floor” for what Valve considers playable: “games we’ve tested and shown have consistently met and exceeded that bar so far. There will also be an optional built-in FPS limiter to fine-tune perf[ormance] vs. battery life.”

Steam Deck will come preinstalled with Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS, which can run native Linux games as well as thousands of Windows-based games through a Proton-powered compatibility layer. Steam Deck owners will also be able to install their own OS on the device, including Windows.

Elsewhere in the interview, Aldehayyat said Valve spent a lot of time optimizing Steam Deck’s SD card connection so that games stored there should be “comparable” to those stored on the internal SSD storage. He added that the NVMe storage was connected in a separate module and not directly on the motherboard, which could suggest it will be possible to replace as time goes on.

Listing image by Valve

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MS Flight Simulator on consoles: Finally, a next-gen game for Xbox Series X/S

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When I think of the history of game consoles, I think of flight simulators.

Nintendo in particular has leveraged the “Pilotwings” name not once, not twice, but thrice to show off brand-new tech over various generations. I have long loved that approach. Pilotwings games err on the side of minimal challenge and maximum relaxation, arguably to let players calmly absorb the newest 3D-rendering tricks of each era.

I think about that strategy now because Microsoft Flight Simulator is launching on Xbox Series X/S this week. Since it’s roughly eight months out from those consoles’ launches, it doesn’t count as a “launch” game. But Microsoft Flight Simulator is honestly the first true “next-gen” first-party console game in Xbox’s latest era. Part of that next-gen quality is because this game, unlike other first-party fare, has no “backwards compatibility” path to the older Xbox One family.

It doesn’t take long to realize why. After a tremendous launch on PCs last year, MSFS has now emerged as a living room game with an emphasis on relaxed, Pilotwings-like trips across the entire globe. In good news, it sets a new bar for 3D rendering performance on consoles, and it stands head and shoulders above all other console games at this time. But its PC heritage lingers in the form of some clunkiness. Flight-sim novices—particularly those who claim the game as part of their Game Pass subscriptions—should brace themselves for control- and interface-related turbulence.

Getting up to speed—and that’s a lot of knots

If you’re unfamiliar with MSFS‘s latest incarnation, my report on its reveal nearly two years ago is a good starting point. Much of what I said then (and what I said in a follow-up look at its 2020 beta) is still true. MSFS 2020 combines Bing’s world-mapping data, Azure’s data-processing centers, and some fantastic rendering engine technology to open the entire Earth to unfettered flight. That dev team, lead by the French studio Asobo, employs a lot of clever procedural generation to turn blurry map data into convincing cities, forests, oceans, and valleys for you to fly over.

Since the game’s launch on PC, Asobo has been vocal and transparent about its efforts to spruce up and fine-tune its plane physics simulations, which account for air pressure, heat, and other weather variables. The results have been generally well received by the flight-sim community, and the trade-off for so much beauty and world detail by default is milder physics realism and fewer customization options than rival PC flight sims like X-Plane 11 or Prepar3D. Still, this version of MSFS is Microsoft’s most competent flyer yet.

One point of community contention, however, is MSFS‘s notoriously uneven performance across a variety of PCs. Performance hitches and stutters are more often the rule rather than the exception, while massive download requirements for various patches haven’t necessarily curried favor with PC players. MS and Asobo have promised PC version optimization as far back as the game’s July 2020 beta period, yet to this day, the PC version pulls powerful CPUs and GPUs to their knees at even “mid-high” settings, let alone with unnecessarily maxed graphics sliders.

In terms of CPU optimization, we’re now in “better late than never” territory, because the Xbox Series X/S ports are clearly running on an updated, focused version of the engine. Holy cow, are the results tremendous.

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