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Day: July 10, 2018

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Court victory legalizes 3D-printable gun blueprints

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A multi-year legal battle over the ability to distribute computer models of gun parts and replicate them in 3D printers has ended in defeat for government authorities who sought to prevent the practice. Cody Wilson, the gunmaker and free speech advocate behind the lawsuit, now intends to expand his operations, providing printable gun blueprints to all who desire them.

The longer story of the lawsuit is well told by Andy Greenberg over at Wired, but the decision is eloquent on its own. The fundamental question is whether making 3D models of gun components available online is covered by the free speech rights granted by the First Amendment.

This is a timely but complex conflict because it touches on two themes that happen to be, for many, ethically contradictory. Arguments for tighter restrictions on firearms are, in this case, directly opposed to arguments for the unfettered exchange of information on the internet. It’s hard to advocate for both here: restricting firearms and restricting free speech are one and the same.

That at least seems to be conclusion of the government lawyers, who settled Wilson’s lawsuit after years of court battles. In a copy of the settlement provided to me by Wilson, the U.S. government agrees to exempt “the technical data that is the subject of the Action” from legal restriction. The modified rules should appear in the Federal Register soon.

What does this mean? It means that a 3D model that can be used to print the components of a working firearm is legal to own and legal to distribute. You can likely even print it and use the product — you just can’t sell it. There are technicalities to the law here (certain parts are restricted, but can be sold in an incomplete state, etc.), but the implications as regards the files themselves seems clear.

Wilson’s original vision, which he is now pursuing free of legal obstacles, is a repository of gun models, called DEFCAD, much like any other collection of data on the web, though naturally considerably more dangerous and controversial.

“I currently have no national legal barriers to continue or expand DEFCAD,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This legal victory is the formal beginning to the era of downloadable guns. Guns are as downloadable as music. There will be streaming services for semi-automatics.”

The concepts don’t map perfectly, no doubt, but it’s hard to deny that with the success of this lawsuit, there are few legal restrictions to speak of on the digital distribution of firearms. Before it even, there were few technical restrictions: certainly just as you could download MP3s on Napster in 2002, you can download a gun file today.

Gun control advocates will no doubt argue that greater availability of lethal weaponry is the opposite of what is needed in this country. But others will point out that in a way this is a powerful example of how liberally free speech can be defined. It’s important to note that both of these things can be true.

This court victory settles one case, but marks the beginnings of many another. “I have promoted my values for years with great care and diligence,” Wilson wrote. It’s hard to disagree with that. Those whose values differ are free to pursue them in their own way; perhaps they too will be awarded victories of this scale.

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Nerf updates laser tag with smartphone AR

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There’s nothing like a great new toy to make you mourn the ghost of bygone youth. I don’t have the opportunity to try many out at this job, but when I do, there’s an invariable pang of jealousy for kids today who have much broader access to sophisticated playthings than we did in our day.

Nerf Laser Ops Pro is a pretty solid example of this. It finds the company combining a solid bit of nostalgic IP with some modern technology, to good effect. The new toys, which hit virtual store shelves next Monday, look like a Nerf, play like a Lazer Tag and incorporate your smartphone to help take them a step beyond what either line has offered in the past.

Arguably the most compelling bit in all of this is the price point, with none of the sets running more than $50. I have a vague memory of the original Lazer Tag system being prohibitively expensive in my youth — or maybe that’s just what my parents told me because they didn’t want any fake guns lying around the house.

There was, after all, some controversy with the line from the outset. Here’s a pretty depressing story from the height of Lazer Tag’s success that no doubt caused its manufacturers to rethink the product’s presentation. In 1998, the brand was purchased by Hasbro, and in 2012, it was rolled into the Nerf line.

The foam gun brand has always offered a warmer, fuzzier take on toy weapons, and that’s very much at play here. The likelihood of ever mistaking Nerf Laser Ops Pro for a real gun is slim to none. That said, true diehards will likely miss the Knight Rider-esque black and red vibe of the original product. But if that’s enough to ruin your childhood, it was probably already on shaky ground to begin with.

The more important question is whether Laser Ops Pro is fun. I only played with it briefly today (reminder: I’m an adult with a job), but I can unequivocally state “yes” on that front. Habro’s done a good job marrying the new with the old here. The guns are big and plasticky and hearty, combining digital technology with mechanical haptic feedback.

Smartphone use is optional, which is good for the little ones. When you add that in, however, you get the benefit of things like leaderboards, states and GPS tracking (all secure and private, the company assures me). There’s also a fun little AR shooting game you can play when you’re all by your lonesome.

The blasters will be available online July 16, with retail availability next month. They’re a solid summer purchase for parents looking for ways to get their video game-obsessed offspring up off the couch while the weather’s still nice.

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My favorite summer toy is the GDP XD emulator

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People ask me all the time about my favorite gadgets and I rarely have any answers. I’ve been playing with stuff since 2004 and I’m pretty gadget-ed out. But this year I’ve finally found something that I really enjoy: the GPD XD, an Android-based gaming handheld that lets you play multiple emulators including an endless array homebrew and classic ROMS.

As an early fan of the Caanoo I’m always looking for handheld emulators that can let you play classic games without much fuss. The Caanoo worked quite well, especially for 2010 technology, and I was looking to upgrade.

My friend bought a GDP and showed it to me and I was hooked. I could play some wonderful old ROMs in a form factor that was superior to the Caanoo and this super cheap, super awful 4.3-inch device that emulates like a truck.

The GDP, which has two joysticks, one four-axis button, four shoulder buttons, and a diamond of game buttons, is basically a Wi-Fi enabled Android device with a touch screen. It runs Android 7.0 and has a MTK8176 Quad-core+ processor and 4GB of memory. It comes with NES, SNES, Arcade, and Playstation emulators built in as well as a few home-brew games. You can install almost anything from the Google Play store and it includes a file manager and ebook reader. It also has a micro SD card slot, HDMI out, and headphone jack.

To be clear, the GDP isn’t exactly well documented. The device includes a bit of on board documentation – basically a few graphics files that describe how to add and upload ROMS and emulators. There are are also a number of online resources including Reddit threads talking about this thing’s emulation prowess. The original model appeared two years ago and they are now selling an updated 2018 version with a better processor and more memory.

GPD recently launched another handheld, the Win 2, which is a full Windows machine in a form factor similar to the XD. It is considerably more expensive – about $700 vs. $300 – and if you’re looking for a more computer-like experience it might work. I have, however, had a lot of fun with the XD these past few months.

So whatever your feelings regarding ROMs, emulators, and tiny PCs, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally pleased with a clever and fun bit of portable technology.

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