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At tech fest: 3D printers, bitcoin & ‘Titanfall

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POSTED March 11, 2014 7:12 p.m.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Bitcoin, 3-D printed candy and George Takei, the Star Trek-actor-turned-Facebook-phenomenon, are among the attractions this week at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, where the geek set is slowly filing out to make room for hordes of musicians descending on the city.

Known as the launching pad of Twitter and home to Foursquare’s coming out party just a few years ago, the annual tech confab also attracts big tech companies that are eager to test out new ideas or simply show that they’re still “with it.”

Here’s a sampling of what you missed — other than waiting in long lines — if you didn’t make it to Austin this year:

uMICROSOFT’S MASSIVE “TITANFALL” LAUNCH: The line to get in to Microsoft Corp.’s 9 p.m. launch party for the eagerly anticipated video game “Titanfall” started forming around 10 a.m. on Monday. By 8 p.m. that night it was around the block and not moving much.

Titanfall,” from the creators of “Call of Duty,” is a shooter game that can only be played with others online — there’s no single-player mode. You play either as a pilot or a titan, wearing a giant, Transformers-like robot suit.

Microsoft has a lot riding on “Titanfall.” The company’s Xbox One console is trailing Sony’s PlayStation 4 in sales. Yusuf Mehdi, chief marketing and strategy officer at Microsoft, though, notes that it’s early in the game.

uBIO-REACTIVE DANCE PARTY: Some 150 sweaty people jammed in a plastic igloo Monday night, wearing special bracelets that measured their movement, body temperature and excitement level. A-Trak, the popular Canadian DJ known for his work with Kanye West and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, took stage just as the crowd’s excitement level — as measured by their wristbands — reached its peak. Lightwave, the startup behind the technology, sees broad potential for the bands, not just at concerts but also at movies, sporting events or political rallies. The DJ had an iPad in front of him that showed the crowd’s real-time excitement level during the event. He could adjust the music to guide the dancers’ mood. Cocktail waitresses served drinks with glowing plastic ice cubes when the excitement level reached a crescendo, and bottles of cold water when body temperatures started rising from all the dancing.

uBITCOIN ATM, BITCOIN FUTURE? A bitcoin ATM on the trade show floor asks for your phone number, government-issued photo ID and palm print before it lets you buy bitcoins using cold hard cash. On Tuesday afternoon, a dollar amounted to exactly 0.00149158 bitcoin.

The news-making digital currency was also the subject of several panels at the conference, where people debated its future, viability and usefulness. Fred Ehrsam, the 25-year-old co-founder of bitcoin wallet service Coinbase, told an audience Monday that he “highly doubts” that Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto, the man identified in a Newsweek cover story as the founder of bitcoin, is the currency’s creator. (Nakamoto denies that he’s the man behind bitcoin). But in the end, it might not matter.

“All that matters is the technology,” Ehrsam says, pointing out that if you stopped someone on the street and asked them who created STMP (that’s Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, the technology standard behind email), they probably couldn’t tell you — even though they likely use email.

* TAKEI’S TAKE: George Takei counts three generations of “Star Trek” fans among his 6 million Facebook fans and 1 million Twitter followers. It’s the 76-year-old actor’s first foray into South By Southwest, where he’s filming the second season of his YouTube show, the AARP-sponsored “Takei’s Take.” He spoke Tuesday about growing up in Japanese internment camps in the 1940s, political activism and using humor to grow his social media fan base. He played down the stereotype that people of his generation are technophobes, while admitting that there are some who might be afraid to “go where no man has gone before,” as the “Star Trek” quote goes.

Take his sister, for example. Takei said his sister doesn’t own a computer. Though he’s convinced her to buy an iPhone, “but whenever she leaves the house, she leaves the iPhone at home.

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