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Now that Microsoft is rolling Windows Phone 8.1 out to handsets, users can now start chatting with its new virtual assistant, Cortana. Right now, she's limited to the US, but the Cortana man at Microsoft, Marcus Ash, has tweeted that "barring an unforeseen issue," the UK developer preview will go live in "less than two weeks" and, wait for it, not feature the reassuring tones of Jen Taylor, the original talent behind Halo's Cortana. Like Apple's Siri, Cortana will adopt a British accent when it rolls out, presumably to make owners feel more comfortable when interacting with the digital sidekick. Sure, she'll still take notes, dictate messages and offer up calendar alerts and reminders, she just won't sound like the Cortana you've relied upon during many a gaming session (unless you indulge in a bit of location trickery).

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In an ideal world, your smartphone and tablet would always be online (and you'd still have an unlimited data plan), but that's just not the case. Problem is, some Android games require a connection even after you've completed your download, but others do not. It's that latter list that Google's breaking out into its own section in Play, called "Offline Games." There you'll find Asphalt 8, Dots, Jetpack Joyride, Assassin's Creed Pirates and a few others -- 54 games in all. That's a shockingly slim selection, so this list is hardly all-inclusive, but if you're in the market for a game to play on your next flight or subway ride, it's a good place to start.

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Back in June, Google revealed Cardboard: an open-source attempt at mobile virtual reality. Heck, even the "hardware" is open source --here are instructions to make your own, right now!

But the concept is more than a low-tech solution to mobile VR. It's emblematic of Google's approach to virtual reality: use the phone that's already in your pocket. Samsung's taking the same approach later this year with Gear VR, only it's also partnering with Oculus VR on the software side.

This stands in stark contrast to the PC-dependent, ultra-high-res experience Oculus VR and Facebook are aiming to achieve. The Oculus Rift headset both literally and figuratively kickstarted the re-birth of virtual reality in modern technology. It remains the peak of technological achievement in virtual reality. And now, the medium is splintering into two distinct futures: one of entertainment, the other of immersion.

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Firefox has already shown off an Android launcher and is now trying some spiffy personalization features for its Android browser. The latest beta flaunts a new class of "panel" add-ons with home page feeds like Pocket, Wikipedia, Instagram and more. Firefox has also released a new set of APIs for those plug-ins, letting any app developer create a home screen page. I tried it out with Instagram and Pocket and found it gave me a quick way to view photo streams and articles without touching the apps. But I've got similar features with my launcher (Terrain), which seems a more logical place to put third party feeds. If you'd like to try it, it seemed stable enough during limited usage, but like any beta, the risk is all yours.

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The intrepid disassemblers over at iFixit have torn Amazon's Fire phone asunder in order to determine how repairable it is, but what did they find? At first blush, things seemed promising, with standard Torx screws holding the chassis together, but after that things started to get sticky. The battery, for instance, is attached with an adhesive tab, but the five front-facing cameras are all held in place with liberal dollops of glue. So much so, in fact, that do-it-yourself repairs are nearly impossible unless you're patient enough to melt each component out of its adhesive prison. Getting spare parts isn't ideal either, since the components share so many resources that you can't just replace one piece -- you've got to buy the lot. That's why the phone scored a measly 3 out of 10 for repairability, which is yet another reason not to buy one.

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You may not be able to fly your drone wherever you want, but there's no rules on what you can actually do with it. That's likely to change, with Politico reporting that President Obama will tell the NTIA to draw up privacy guidelines for unmanned aerial vehicles. The rulebook will only cover commercial and hobbyist activities, but should stop nefarious eyes from straying too close to your bathroom window when you're not looking. Military and law-enforcement hardware, meanwhile, will require separate rules, which is likely to come from individual states. When asked, the White House gave issued a standard no comment, but let slip that an "inter-agency process" was underway to co-ordinate America's stance on drone use. Of course, since commercial drone use is still banned in the US -- with some exceptions -- there's at least time for the government to thrash out a cohesive policy on the matter.

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The contactless payment feature on your bank card is ideal for speeding up minor purchases, and soon it'll be able to replace your Oyster, too. London buses have supported contactless payments for some time, and Transport for London (TfL) has today announced that come September 16th, they'll get you through the barriers at Tube, Overground and DLR stations as well. The benefit of using your bank card is you never have to top it up, and in addition to the daily cap on travel charges already in place, any method of contactless payment will also be subject to a new weekly cap (Monday to Sunday), whereby TfL figures out the cheapest possible fare for that period. You'll be able to keep track of your journey and payment history via an online account, much like you can with a registered Oyster card now. Implementing contactless payments across the wider London transport network comes after a pilot that's been running since April, but TfL are still looking for new lab rats to test the system before its formal launch.

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An art installation from the Koln International School of Design aims to give us a feel for the ethereal radio waves we take for granted every day. Binairy Talk, created by Niklas Isselburg and Jakob Killian, uses a sound generator and pulsing device to fire smoke rings at a laser sensor. Those are interpreted by a computer as either ones or zeros, with the resulting messages displayed on a screen. That may seem like a cumbersome way to say "hello," but the idea is to use an ancient, tangible system like smoke signals to "create awareness as to how much data and information constantly surrounds us." High minded concepts aside, it's also pretty cool -- check the video below.

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Rumors of an assault on Europe have circled for quite some time, but today BSkyB has finally made a move to expand its pay-TV empire outside of the UK. The company today announced it has agreed to pay 21st Century Fox a total of £4.9 billion ($8.33 billion) to acquire Sky Italia and buy the majority share (57 percent) of Sky Deutschland. If the deal is given the green light by regulators, the newly-formed Sky Europe would emerge with almost 20 million European customers.

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telemachus: the tower, 8 a.m., theology, white/gold, heir, narrative (young)

Look, there's nothing to be ashamed of if you've been plowing through James Joyce's Ulysses for the past, oh, decade. It's such a challenging read, that a developer thought it best to create some sort of a virtual reality world based on the piece that can be accessed through an Oculus Rift headset. Irish filmmaker Eoghan Kidney has launched a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of raising €4,000 ($5,400) for the project. The idea is to provide accompanying visuals as a narrator reads the story, which (to us, anyway) sounds it could help readers reach the final pages. Sadly, the campaign only deals with a single chapter called Proteus, but Kidney says it's just a prototype for a larger project that tackles other parts of the book. If you want to put yourself in Stephen Dedalus' shoes and walk along Sandymount Strip, head after the break to watch the video.

[Image credit: Brad Lindert/Flickr]

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