Fans spoke, and apparently Microsoft listened.
In an apparent reversal of the company's previous position, Microsoft announced Wednesday that it was changing several policies regarding its forthcoming Xbox One gaming console.
Since it was revealed in May and at its big presentation at E3 earlier this month, Microsoft has been the target of harsh criticism for how the system would need to "check-in" online once every 24 hours and a confusing policy toward used games.
In an official post, Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment business, says they've have listened:
"Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.
"You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world."
The first big change is that the Xbox One will no longer require an Internet connection to play offline Xbox One games, and there is no longer a 24-hour connection requirement. Mattrick says that after a one-time system setup online, disc-based games can be played without ever connecting to the Internet again.
The other change is that games can be traded, lent to other Xbox One owners, resold or gifted — there will be no limitations on using and sharing games, Mattrick says. Previously Microsoft said there would be restrictions with trading and selling used games, but the details of how that would function were unclear.
Xbox One games will also be playable on any Xbox One console and there will be no regional locks.
These changes put it more inline with Microsoft's direct competitor, Sony's upcoming PS4 system. Sony stated at E3 their system would not require an online connection and wouldn't restrict used games.
Both systems go on sale later this year, the Xbox One at $499 and the PS4 at $399.
Two men in upstate New York have been arrested for planning to build a "radiation particle weapon" that could be mounted on a vehicle and used to target people, according to a report by the Albany Times-Union Wednesday. The men allegedly planned to sell the device to either the Ku Klux Klan or Jewish groups.
Citing a federal complaint that was unsealed today, the Times-Union says the man at the center of the alleged plot is Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, whom it identifies as a mechanic for General Electric. He was arrested Tuesday.
The complaint, which is available online, accuses Crawford of planning to build "a truck-borne, industrial-grade x-ray system, thus weaponizing that system and allowing it to be turned on and off from a distance and without detection."
Also arrested was Eric J. Feight, 54, who officials believe intended to build the weapon's electronic control system. The two men were in federal court Wednesday on charges that they conspired to provide material support to terrorists, including use of a weapon of mass destruction.
An affidavit filed with the complaint says the suspects did not acquire a radiation source for the weapon officials say they were working on, but that they finished building a remote control that was meant to operate it. The 67-page document also includes transcriptions of conversations about the technical aspects of the project.
As for whether such a weapon would be feasible, the AP asked an expert to weigh in:
"Dr. Fred Mettler, the U.S. representative on the United Nations' Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, was unfamiliar with the specifics of Crawford's plans but said it's unlikely such a device could work," the agency reports.
"Radiation can be narrowly beamed, as it is in some cancer treatments, but the accelerators require huge amounts of electricity, are not easily portable and any target would have to remain still for a long time."
"I don't know of any of these that you can use like a gun to aim at someone on the street," Mettler tells the AP.
Crawford drew the attention of federal agents in the spring of 2012, when he allegedly approached members of Gates of Heaven, a synagogue in Schenectady, with the promise of a weapon that could benefit Israel.
From a local News Center 10 TV report:
"According to Rabbi Matt Cutler, Crawford tried to discuss a device which was being created to protect Jewish people. Although Cutler says he did not get into details about the actual device, as he tried to pitch his plan, secretaries inside the temple were thinking of a way to get Crawford out of the building.
"The secretaries, scared by the bizarre plan Crawford had discussed, called the police immediately and notified the Jewish Federation he was headed their way."
Once the FBI was contacted, a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation began.
The FBI says it set up a meeting at a restaurant between Crawford a confidential informant last year. Here's how the Times-Union describes part of that session, quoting the federal complaint:
"'Crawford also told the (source) that the target of his radiation emitting device would be the Muslim community,' the complaint states. 'Crawford described the device's capabilities as 'Hiroshima on a light switch' and that 'everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.'"
The complaint alleges that the two men used the codenames Dimitri (Crawford) and Yoda (Feight), and that they also allegedly met with undercover informants who were posing as potential buyers for the radiation weapon, who presented themselves as members of a South Carolina Ku Klux Klan group.
General Electric issued a statement today saying that it has suspended Crawford from his job, and that the company is cooperating with the investigation.
Crawford and Feight are due to appear in court again Thursday.
"This case demonstrates how we must remain vigilant to detect and stop potential terrorists, who so often harbor hatred toward people they deem undesirable," U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said in a statement released today. "We give special thanks to those who quickly alerted law enforcement authorities to this devious plan."
Just a day after being added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, a former University of Southern California professor was arrested in the Mexican beach resort of Playa del Carmen.
Reporting for our Newscast unit, NPR's Carrie Kahn says 64-year-old Walter Lee Williams had been pursued by the FBI since 2011.
She says the indictment against Williams alleges he used his position as a professor of gender and sexuality studies to travel internationally and prey on underage boys.
The U.S. Department of Justice says Williams traveled to the Philippines in January 2011 to engage in sex acts with two 14-year-old boys he met online in 2010. He fled the Los Angeles area approximately one week after returning from the Philippines.
The FBI offered a reward of $100,000 for information on Williams' whereabouts when they placed him on their most wanted list on Monday. He was captured Tuesday drinking coffee near a park in the Caribbean beach town, according to The Associated Press.
"I analyzed the computers and the camera that belong to Williams and found child pornography," Jeff Yesensky, FBI special agent, said in a video posted online Monday to bring awareness to the case.
"Because of his status, he has the means and access to children, and that's what makes him dangerous," Yesensky said. "He preys on the most vulnerable children."
Mexican authorities said it was unclear how long Williams had been in Playa del Carmen. They also didn't say whether he is suspected of committing any crimes in Mexico.
A 7-foot-tall statue of famed, lion-maned abolitionist Frederick Douglass that was dedicated Wednesday on Capitol Hill is perhaps best understood as a bronze symbol of the partisan divide in Washington and of racial politics.
The ex-slave, who later became a friend of President Abraham Lincoln, was a federal official and an important journalist of his day. It took years for a statue of him to land a spot because it became a proxy in the fight over voting rights and statehood for Washington, D.C.
District of Columbia officials years ago asked to have statues representing the district placed on display in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall just like the statues provided by the 50 states. They wanted two statues, one of Douglass and another of Pierre L'Enfant, the Frenchman who planned the layout of the district.
Republicans rebuffed the request, however, arguing that D.C. was not a state and therefore didn't rate the privilege of having representation in Statuary Hall.
The back and forth went on for years with national Democrats supporting the district, which has a nonvoting delegate in the House, for the usual reasons. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic and until recently was majority black. A politician's support for district voting rights and statehood has long been viewed by African-Americans as general solidarity with them.
For Republicans, there was little upside to the strongly Democratic district getting statehood or votes in Congress. Allowing the statues could be a step down a slippery slope since the district would receive yet one more attribute of a state.
A compromise was reached in September. Douglass, but not L'Enfant, would get a Capitol Hill spot, though in the Capitol Visitor Center, not Statuary Hall.
It probably helped the cause of Douglass' statue that he belonged to the GOP, like most abolitionists before and during the Civil War, and African-Americans after the war.
At the official dedication ceremony Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner noted that at the 1888 Republican National Convention, Douglass was the first African-American to have his name placed in nomination for the presidency. Benjamin Harrison, the eventual nominee and president, had little to worry about: Douglass got just one vote.
Allowing the Douglass statue also probably wouldn't hurt and might help the image of a Republican Party whose establishment knows it needs to attract more minority voters or at least not turn them off.
Meanwhile, Democrats like Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi used the dedication event to call for the district to get a vote in Congress (Biden, Reid and Pelosi) and even statehood (Reid and Pelosi).
Douglass, who advocated for district voting rights himself, would have appreciated that. After all, he once said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will."
The world's wealthiest nations are promising to fight what they call the scourge of tax evasion. This week's meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries concluded with a pledge to end the use of tax shelters by multinational corporations.
But there are still big questions about how they will make a dent in the problem.
In the aftermath of the global recession, countries all over the world have struggled with budget shortfalls. More and more of them have come to blame part of their revenue problems on one culprit — tax avoidance.
The G-8 statement this week represents a kind of doubling down on the determination of wealthy countries to take on the problem.
"If you want a low-tax economy, which I believe is fundamental to growth, you have to collect the taxes that are owed," British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday. "That is only fair for companies and for people who play by the rules."
Big Questions Remain
But the G-8 statement was short on specifics about how to address the problem.
It says tax authorities in different countries should share information more readily. It also says multinational companies should be more transparent about the taxes they pay.
Cameron spoke about creating a new international mechanism that would track where companies are earning their profits and under what name. That would make clear whether they are paying what they owe.
But the statement stops short of advocating a central ownership registry for corporations — something many tax activists have long pressed for.
Jack Blum of Tax Justice Network USA says such a registry would make it harder for companies to hide their profits in shell corporations.
"A registry will go a very long way to helping people sort out who's hiding money where and really help tax collectors collect the money that's owed," he says.
Blum says the G-8 statement is a step in the right direction.
"They've said a lot of the right things," he says. "Now the question is how will they do it?"
Blum says it is now up to lawmakers in the G-8 countries to spell out and agree on exactly what they want to do — and that promises to be a long and contentious process.
"This isn't a treaty; it's nothing that's passed the Congress," he says. "There are many hurdles between here and real action."
Anticipating Business Opposition
Any major change in U.S. tax law is certain to face opposition by business groups.
Catherine Schultz of the National Foreign Trade Council says companies shift money around in a complex global economy for good reason. And what often seems like tax evasion to the public is really a legal effort by companies to minimize their tax bill.
"If it's legal under the tax rules for them to minimize their taxes, we need to change the underlying tax rules, we need to go to tax reform, we need to fix our system," Schultz says.
Business groups also insist the real problem is that U.S. corporate tax rates are higher than in other developed countries. They say that any effort to crack down on tax evasion needs to be done as a part of an overall reform of the nation's tax code.