Archive | April 2013

Star Citizen hits $9 million in funding

Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts’ upcoming space simulator Wow Gold  Star Citizen today reached $9 million in crowd-funding, up from $8 million in the middle of February.

The game’s Kickstarter campaign closed with $2,134,374, while funds through the Roberts Space Industries website stand at $6,885,668 million and climbing.

The funding milestone for Star Citizen comes a week after developer Cloud Imperium Games announced it would expand its network of studios and open an office in Santa Monica, California.

Star Citizen has been in development at Cloud Imperium Games for more than a year. The game itself includes a “sophisticated storyline” that is set in a persistent online universe. According to Roberts, it will fuse elements of his previous games, Wing Commander and Freelancer, and support for the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift is planned.

Much like Guild Wars II, Star Citizen will be available through a one-time purchase, but will not require a subscription. Players can also purchase virtual items with real-world money to customize their ships.

When Clarence Thomas Wrote To George Jones

The news today that the great country singer George Jones had died at age 81 left me flooded with memories of my visit with him in 2010.

George Jones in the late 1980s.

The Two-Way

Country Star George Jones Dies

George Jones

50 Great Voices

George Jones: The Voice Of Heartbreak

I went to his sprawling estate in Franklin, Tenn., to interview Jones for our “50 Great Voices” series. After our interview, he took me on a tour of his basement “museum.” “I enjoy coming down here,” he told me. “I walk through and reminisce a little.”

The rooms were lined with his hit records. Country singles charts with his songs perched at the top. Photos of George Jones with just about everybody. Stuffed opossums, in honor of his nickname, “The Possum.”

There on the wall, I spotted a fascinating oddity: a framed letter to George Jones from none other than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

It’s printed on Supreme Court letterhead, dated Sept. 10, 1993. Justice Thomas begins by thanking Jones for having sent him two letters, several cassette tapes and a CD.

A framed letter, written from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to country superstar George Jones in 1993. Enlarge image i

It turns out, Justice Thomas is a big Possum fan. “I can’t begin to tell how good it made me feel to receive your letters,” he writes. “I have listened to your music for over a decade. The lyrics so often captured just how I felt. As you can imagine, I have had occasion to feel the blues. But, I have also been blessed with so much more happiness and good fortune.”

Then, the famously reticent Justice Thomas reveals an intriguing personal anecdote:

“You may be interested to know that I used one of your songs to allay the concerns of my bride’s mother. Prior to our wedding, she expressed some concern about this being my second marriage. ”

(Note: Justice Thomas is referring to his 1987 wedding to his wife, Virginia.)

He continues, “At that time, I had been listening repeatedly to one of your albums which unfortunately is packed away. I believe it was entitled ‘Wine Colored Roses.’ I apologize in advance if that is wrong.”

(His memory was correct.)

Justice Thomas goes on, “One of the songs contained the lyrics: ‘I put a golden band on the right left hand this time; and the right left hand put a golden band on mine.’ As I said before, your music has captured so much of my own feelings.”

“Right Left Hand” is all about finding love after lots of false starts (“I cried a million tears, down through the years / Searching for that special one / And the vows I took before, were all for ever more / But no matter how I tried they came undone.”)


Now Justice Thomas doesn’t specify just how he used this song to allay his future mother-in-law’s concerns: Did he play it for her? Quote her the lyrics? We just don’t know. My guess is he didn’t want her to focus on the verse where Jones sings about a life of enduring passion: (“I’ll never have to plead for the love that my heart needs / She’ll be close enough to touch / And when the nights are long and cold, she’ll be there to hold / All dressed up for one more night of love.”)

So next time someone asks you, “What do Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Keith Richards and Elvis Costello have in common?” you know the answer: All of them are big fans of George Jones.

Open Letter to Travel Media: Brooklyn Is Not A City

The famed and historic boardwalk at Coney Island has remained an iconic Brooklyn attraction through trendy and not so trendy times.

As a full-time travel journalist for nearly two decades, I have seen lots of destinations become the “It” place of the movement, or what editors often call “the next Prague,” after the Czech city’s meteoric trendiness rise in the late 20th century. Right now, there is little doubt that Brooklyn, one of five boroughs compromising New York City, a city located within New York State, which in turn is part of the United States of America, is the next big thing. I added the detailed geopolitical clarification for the sake of my many brethren in the food and travel media sector who can’t seem to come to terms with what or where Brooklyn actually is.

Take Food & Wine magazine. This is a publication based in New York City, with editors living in New York City – many of them in Brooklyn, I’d bet heavily – and even they have no idea what Brooklyn is. I just got a press release touting their May issue and describing the featured article as:

“10 Best Foodie Streets in America: FOOD & WINE rounded up the best places to eat and drink (and shop!) all on one street in 10 cities across the US.  Cities include:  Durham, NC; Portland, OR; Philadelphia, PA; Boulder, CO; San Francisco, CA; New Orleans, LA; Los Angeles, CA; Brooklyn, NY; Louisville, KY; and, Chicago, IL. “

Readers buying the magazine for this list of the 10 may feel slightly shortchanged, because there are only 9 cities, US or otherwise, on that list. It’s not splitting semantic hairs to point out that Brooklyn is not a city, it’s a simple reality that most of the fact checkers I have worked with over the years would have caught immediately (once upon a time, as recently as 1898, Brooklyn was a city, but this lapse has been long enough to warrant updating). It’s wrong, not poetic license, and no different than running a list of 10 Best Countries for something and including California.

It also begs the question whether they meant that the street in question (Bedford Avenue), is truly their pick for the best food street in New York City, the only city with which Brooklyn can be associated. That would be the logical conclusion. Or would actually selecting the best food street in the city have forced them away from editorially riding the coattails of Brooklyn’s all-consuming buzz?

Conde Nast Traveler is another industry leading, high profile travel publication, also based in New York City – another that should know better. Its “2013 Hot list of New Hotels” lists the hottest new US hotels with their city affiliations. Conde Nast selected three winners from the Empire State, described thusly: “Conrad, New York; The NoMad, New York; Wythe Hotel, Brooklyn, NY.” The implication of this is very clear – and very wrong. I get similar lists of best restaurants, best this, best that, almost weekly from myriad publications and websites and suddenly all have taken this tack of listing Brooklyn as its own city while grouping the contents of New York’s four other boroughs.

Increasingly, I am seeing the outlandish assertion, a la Food & Wine, that Brooklyn is its own city, or the unmistakable suggestion, a la Conde Nast Traveler, that it is somehow separate from the rest of New York City, on an almost daily basis – and I want it to stop. This is not because I have anything against Brooklyn or New York City – in fact, quite the opposite. As a native New Yorker whose family has long multi-generational histories in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn – where my grandparents operated a soda fountain in Coney Island – I have always rejoiced the city’s diversity, quilt of neighborhoods and vastness. I want it to stop because it is wrong and it is stupid and it is one more step down the slippery slope towards a widespread laissez-faire inaccuracy in media.

It is also misleading, especially to the many millions of far-flung visitors planning to visit New York City who might easily get the wrong impression and assume Brooklyn had the type of tourist infrastructure associated with an actual city. It does not. I have heard the claim bandied about quite a bit lately that “if Brooklyn were its own city it would be the third largest in the US,” which is true, assuming all five New York City boroughs similarly seceded (of course, Queens, another New York City borough rarely mistaken for a city despite having far more of almost every type of visitor related infrastructure, would be a close fifth, and Manhattan would be sixth). Brooklyn would also be far and away the largest city in the country without a hotel bed base of any significance (or airport), and all those people who tried to visit based on the stories they had been reading about what a great city it was would be in for a rude awakening, especially when they tried to check-in.

So here’s the deal. Brooklyn is hot for a reason. It is absolutely worth visiting if you come from out of town, both for it unique classic attractions, such as Prospect Park and Coney Island, and for the latest and greatest, to catch a Nets game or to see what all the hipster buzz is about right now. But given its miniscule amount of tourist hotels, and the fact that the overwhelming majority of the rooms – along with most stores, restaurants, museums, cultural and other attractions are in the other parts of the Big Apple, it might make more sense to just visit New York City.  Upon arrival, readers of top tier travel and food publications might be surprised to discover that one of New York’s many charms is Brooklyn – which by the way, is not a city.

Epic Games marketing chief leaves for Microsoft

Gears of War and Unreal Engine studio Epic Games will move forward Wow Gold without its top marketing person. Kendall Boyd has left the company after three years and will take on a similar role at Microsoft, where he will head up marketing efforts for the Halo brand.

“We can confirm that Kendall Boyd has joined Microsoft Studios as Director of Halo Global Marketing,” A Microsoft spokesperson told Games Industry International. “We’re thrilled to welcome him into the Halo fold, but have no other details to share at this time.”

Boyd’s exact title at Epic Games was director of marketing for worldwide studios. In the role, he oversaw the marketing of top-line franchises like Infinity Blade and Gears of War, as well as the Unreal Engine. Boyd was also responsible for establishing and maintaining marketing relationships with clients like Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and Apple.

An Epic Games representative acknowledged Boyd’s departure in a statement to Games Industry International, but did not detail its plans for the position moving forward.

Numerous high-profile personnel have left Epic Games in the past year, including design director Cliff Bleszinski, president Mike Capps, Gears of War executive producer Rod Fergusson, and People Can Fly co-owner and creative director Adrian Chmielarz.

Chinese Internet company revealed last month that it paid $330 million for 40 percent ownership of Epic Games and had appointed to representatives to the company’s board.

GateGuru Relaunches With New Ways To Streamline Your Travel Experience

Founded by Dan Gellert and Jeff Arena, Time Warner Ventures and Yahoo! alums respectively, GateGuru is second behind TripIt in terms of users and downloads. The app helps you build itineraries with simple input methods including selecting flights by number or even emailing itineraries into the program. Once you’ve set up your itinerary, the company makes money by pitching last minute car and hotel rentals on the fly – and unobtrusively – while you slog through the supreme indignity of modern travel.

Gellert sees the app as “day of travel” assistant. “We have a lot of unique data in our product such as airport amenity information, TSA wait times, airport tips, maps, etc. For these reasons, as a day-of travel solution, the GateGuru experience blows away that of any of these guys,” he said.

They have raised $1.3 million to date from Amol Sarva, Matt Daimler, Tom Glocer, and others. They are currently seeing 140,000 users per month with 1 million downloads.

The inspiration for the service came when Gellert and Arena spent most of their time traveling yet remained confused about where to eat in airports and which security lines were shortest. “Somehow there was a complete black hole of information for the traveler. Simple things like: ‘Should I eat before or after security?,’ ‘How long is the security wait time?’, ‘Is my flight delayed or on time?’ often couldn’t be answered. I felt like there needed to be a seamless solution to give travelers knowledge about this entire experience; to put the power back in the hands of the traveler.”

“From there, it has been off to the races in going from Yelp for the airport into our larger vision which is reinventing the entire day-of travel experience,” he said.

The team is planning further improvements, including a true “virtual assistant” feature that should make traveling a bit more bearable.

“We will get to the point in the next 12 – 18 months where we can say ‘John – we know you are driving out to SFO, and based on traffic, airport parking availability, security wait times, your walk to your gate and flight status, you should leave for the airport in 30 minutes’ – regardless of if that is 2 hours or 4 hours before your flight,” he said. “This is a big change from the anxiety filled experience of walking through the airport glass doors only to find the place mobbed, resulting in you potentially missing your flight.” The data comes from collections of information including TSA checkpoint wait times and airport maps.

Whether GateGuru becomes a key part of your travel process or just another app that sits in that little folder on my phone labelled Travel and contains Kayak, TripIt, (Wow Gold Kaufen) Shazam, andRideTheCity remains to be seen. However, these lads do have promise.

Southwest Airlines announces new chief technology officer

Southwest Airlines today announced Craig Maccubbin will join the airline as its new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Vice President of Technology Operations, effective May 6, 2013. In his new position, Maccubbin will be responsible for the Technology Operations for the airline, which includes all current Infrastructure and Services areas and Mobile Platform.

“I am thrilled to have a Leader of Craig’s caliber and breadth of experience on Technology’s Senior Leadership Team as we power Southwest’s future with innovative and Customer-friendly solutions,” said Southwest Airlines’ Chief Information Officer Randy Sloan . Maccubbin will report to Sloan.

Maccubbin most recently served as Vice President and CIO of Spirit Airlines, where he was responsible for all information technology and systems.  During his career, Maccubbin has held various executive positions in the IT sector across a broad range of industries, including aviation. As Vice President and CTO of Zeta Interactive, a major digital marketing agency, he led product development, infrastructure, professional services, and customer support and delivery for several Fortune 500 Companies, including US Airways, Mattel, JP Morgan Chase, Sony, Time, Inc., and Warner Music Group. He also served as Vice President and CTO for Black Entertainment Television where he successfully led the design and delivery of the world’s largest African American vertical portal. Previously, he also established a large consulting practice that was focused on enterprise systems development for a variety of clients including Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Sprint, Mercedes-Benz and the U.S. Department of Education.

As CTO, Maccubbin joins the Technology Leadership team and will oversee approximately 500 Employees engaged in support of the airline’s technology agenda.  His primary function is to support the day-to-day operational aspects of running technology solutions for all of Southwest Airlines, including operations of the airline’s data centers.  In addition, he will lead the Quality Assurance function within Technology.

Richie Havens Folk Singer Who Opened Woodstock Has Died

Richie Havens once told NPR that he believed all music is folk music. Listen to Havens speak about Woodstock, Greenwich Village and why he loved performing in Neda Ulaby’s remembrance, broadcast on Morning Edition, at the audio link on this page.

Richie Havens, a Brooklyn-born singer who sang gospel as a teenager, began playing folk music in Greenwich Village clubs in the 1960s and was the opening act at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969, died Monday of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City, N.J., according to his agent. He was 72 years old.

Havens had a long career as a musician, but if he had done nothing else, his performance at Woodstock would secure his place in American music history. Havens was the first performer to walk onto the stage at the festival; he sat on a stool and performed for nearly two hours — including an improvisation that incorporated the spiritual “Motherless Child,” later called “Freedom.” It became a highlight of the documentary about the festival and introduced him to audiences around the world.

As a black performer, he was a rarity in the folk-dominated Greenwich Village scene. His sandpaper soft voice and percussive guitar playing caught the ear of folk impresario Albert Grossman, who first signed Bob Dylan and helped create Peter, Paul and Mary. Havens released his breakout album, Mixed Bag, in 1967.

Havens went on to act in films and on television, and he continued recording for more than 40 years. He had a Top 20 hit in 1971 with a cover of The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” and released his last album, Nobody Left to Crown, in 2008. But it was onstage — with his guitar — that Havens was in his element. He toured constantly and in 2008 told NPR that he never planned his shows beyond the opening and closing songs.

“Many times people have come up to me after and they’d, they’d say, ‘Richie, do you know what you did?’ I’d say, ‘What?’ They’d go, ‘I wrote these songs down for you to sing and you sang ’em all in a row.’ That’s the kind of communication happens, you know,” Havens said. “It’s like if you let the audience lead, then you are the audience.”

Havens connected with audiences from stages large and small for more than 50 years.


Los Preps Rap Coronation On Becoming King Mixtape

Los never minces words when it comes to his rap ability. The Baltimore MC is still on the come-up, but for years he has had a fixation on hip-hop’s crown and on his upcoming mixtape, Becoming King. Diddy’s new spitter answers the call.

Los Couldn’t ‘Cheat’ When ‘Becoming King’

“There’s a lot of pressure whenever you make an all-original project because you can’t cheat. You can’t just use the popular beat that everybody already loves and seduce ’em with that,” he told Mixtape Daily of the project, which drops on Thursday. “You have to come original; you have to come fresh, organic, so it was like a lot of pressure initially. It was like an album almost, but it’s a mixtape.”

Los has known Diddy for years, but signed his latest deal with Bad Boy last year; now, with expert backing, the well-tuned lyricist continues his quest for the throne. On “Burn Slow,” a Becoming King collabo that features Wiz Khalifa and Mickey Shiloh, Los raps with a chip on his shoulder: “I remember last time, they said this was my last turn.”

On his 2011 mixtape The Crown Ain’t Safe, Los offered similar boasts, and backed it up even then. With his new tape, he looks to up the ante once again. “I have to live up to Becoming King — this is a lot,” he said.

Joints to Check For

» “Pay Up” — “It’s like lyrical warfare. It’s almost that tension you feel when somebody’s goin’ in and it kinda gives it an awareness to your peers and the other players on the court, like, ‘Uh-oh, this dude is really out here trying to score 70, what y’all gonna do?’ ”

» “O.D.” — “It’s like my play on things that get me high, because I don’t really do drugs. I used money as my drug on this record.”

Federal budget cuts spark cascading travel delays along the East Coast

It was a tough start to the week for many air travelers as federal budget cuts led to cascading delays along the East Coast Monday morning.

Some flights out of New York and Washington were delayed by more than two hours as the Federal Aviation Administration kept planes on the ground. The federal agency has said furloughs of air traffic controllers could lead to delays if there weren’t enough people to monitor busy air corridors.


For instance, the 8 a.m. US Airways shuttle pushed back from the gate at Reagan National Airport six minutes early but didn’t take off until 9:58 a.m. The plane landed at 10:48 a.m. — more than two and a half hours later than its scheduled time.

If travelers instead took Amtrak’s 8 a.m. Acela Express train from Washington, they arrived in New York at 10:42 a.m. — 4 minutes early.


Government budget cuts that kicked in last month are forcing the FAA and other agencies to cut their spending. FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.

Skies were mostly calm along the East Coast, with the exception of a few wind gusts in New York. The delays seen were much more severe than what would normally be seen on a comparable day with full staffing.


Delta Air Lines said it was “disappointed” in the furloughs and warned travelers Monday to expect delays in the following cities: New York, Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The flight tracking service FlightAware says flights heading to Florida are seeing delays of up to an hour.

Raymond Adams, president of the air traffic controllers union at New Jersey’s Newark airport, said on Twitter than a few flights out of Newark to the south got sent back to Newark because the Washington area air traffic control system was overwhelmed.

Some groups are warning that the slowdown could hurt the economy.

“Our nation’s economy and businesses will pay a very steep price that significantly outstrips savings produced by furloughs,” the Global Business Travel Association warned the FAA in a letter Friday. “If these disruptions unfold as predicted, business travelers will stay home, severely impacting not only the travel industry but the economy overall.”


An American In Mali Teaching The Country’s Sounds

Numbers are down at the American International School in Bamako, the capital of Mali.

In just over a year, the country has witnessed a rebellion, a military coup and the occupation by Islamist fighters of the desert northern region, recently largely liberated in a counteroffensive by French-led forces. Despite the troubles, the school is open and classes continue.

Teacher Paul Chandler is taking his combined class of 6th- and 7th-graders through their early paces, learning the Malian music they’ll be performing at the annual school concert.

Teacher Paul Chandler (left) and musician Siaka Doumbia play djembe drums during music class. Enlarge image i

Teacher Paul Chandler (left) and musician Siaka Doumbia play djembe drums during music class.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton /NPR

Teacher Paul Chandler (left) and musician Siaka Doumbia play djembe drums during music class.

Teacher Paul Chandler (left) and musician Siaka Doumbia play djembe drums during music class.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton /NPR

“We’re teaching Malian music but specifically Maninka music,” Chandler says. “And we’re using heptatonic balafons. A balafon is a wooden xylophone, pretty much. It’s an African xylophone, but it’s wooden, it’s hand-carved.”

Fousseiny Diallo, 14, has been studying with Chandler for three years.

“The first time I played balafon was in the school, so I like it,” Fousseiny says. “I don’t feel lonely when I see my friends playing balafon.”

Related NPR Stories

Baba Salah at his home in Bamako, Mali. On his new album, Dangay, he calls attention to what he describes as human-rights violations in the north.

Music Interviews

Baba Salah: A Malian Musician Speaks To His Nation’s Displaced

Malian singing legend Oumou Sangare performing in Essaouira, Morocco in June 2012.

The Mix

The Mix: The Mali 100 Presented By Afropop Worldwide

Chandler says the wealth of Malian culture makes it a real pleasure to teach his young students. He invites professional Malian musicians — guitarist, arranger and composer Lamine Soumano and drummer Siaka Doumbia — into the classroom to help with lessons.

“Each semester, we focus on music from different regions of Mali — music from the different ethnic groups of Mali,” Chandler says. “But we’re also going to do a medley or a fusion piece with music from the North, Tamashek music from the Tuareg.”

With the current problems that have shaken Mali to its roots, Chandler says, the idea of mixing the music has added poignancy.

“We always like to experiment with the different musical traditions in Mali,” he says. “But you know, this semester it seemed even more relevant that we should really fuse music from the North and from the South, and kind of put that together and focus on the similarities.”

It’s been a decade since Minnesota-born Chandler, who was raised in Nebraska, left the U.S. and headed to Mali to study music.

“It’s interesting. The longer I stay here, I realize that, well, Nebraska is quite similar to Mali in lots of ways, actually,” Chandler says. “The river here is the Niger River. I grew up next to the Platte River — mostly agriculture. And around Bamako, it’s mostly agriculture. And even though from the outside Mali seems very different, I think what’s important is that people are the same everywhere.”