Sure, there are already options for getting fit with the help of your Xbox console, and now one of the most popular in-home exercise options is offering more sweat soaked material. P90X for Xbox Fitness brings a 30-day version of the three-month slim down to your living room via the Xbox One (sorry, Xbox 360 owners) with five new routines to boot. The video-based workout curriculum will leverage the Kinect to keep an eye on your form along the way as well. As you may recall, trainer Tony Horton has already served up P90X and Insanity workouts for Redmond’s fitness efforts, alongside Jillian Michaels and others. Forking over $60 today gets you the month-long challenge, and there’s a downloadable calendar and nutrition plan coming next moth. Of course, Mr. Horton is along for every second of the action — just in case you thought you were getting off easy.
NPR already has a few options for sorting its range of programming, but now the public radio outfit is looking to get more specific. The latest effort is the NPR One, which offers a local stream along with curated content that’s accessible with one tap — all broken down into short segments. For example, upon launching the app and signing in with a Facebook, Google or NPR account, pressing play begins streaming the latest update from the closest station (WUNC in my case). Swiping to the left of the Now Playing section offers a history of recently broadcast content for a quick recap, while a swipe to the right allows you to scroll through upcoming bits. There’s also controls for skipping back in 15-second increments and jumping from the current story to another. Of course, if you’re after the latest All Songs Considered or Fresh Air episodes, those are easily searchable as well. Both Android and iOS apps are available via their respective repositories.
“Skimming” is a blanket term used when referencing a crime where you take small amounts of money. It literally means to take cash off the top, as if money were the sweet cream floating atop a cauldron of lesser riches. Fifty years ago, skimming might have meant stealing a handful of dollars from your employer, or even millions in elaborate scams we’ve seen in countless Hollywood films. Today’s skimming, however, employs tricks and hardware that are absurdly complex and yet sneaky enough to elude detection. Unless you know what to look for, of course. Today’s world of skimming is high-tech, and it wants your credit card and banking info.
Though we can’t help you catch every conceivable method that crooks are using to try to rip you off, being armed with a bit of knowledge on the topic could save you major hassle down the road. No matter what you take away form this read, at a minimum you’ll never look at an ATM or POS terminal the same way again.
WHAT IS IT?
A skimmer in the ATM world usually features two important pieces of hardware: A micro camera positioned within eyesight of the keypad, and a magnetic card reading device that captures your card’s details. To “clone” — duplicate — your card, this is all the info a would-be thief needs. The scenario is, sadly, very simple: You wander up to your local ATM, pop your card in and a device captures your card details; next you type in your PIN and that’s captured on camera. You carry on with your day, business as usual, but in the following weeks you’ll get a call from the bank or credit card company about “strange” transactions on your account. Perhaps you’ve heard this story before?
Similar things happen with POS terminals in retail shops — payment registers — sometimes with the employee’s knowledge and sometimes without. Bogus terminals exist that will even print out a “transaction complete” record when the device never actually contacted your bank. You buy a pack of gum, run the sale through with your card and the thief buys your treat for you. Then, using the info gleaned easily recovers his or her losses. Nervous yet? You should be, this stuff is rampant.
Recently there’s been a spate of reports that gas stations are being targeted for skimming. The same principle for ATM systems is used, but the concentration of cards passing through gas stations is higher. It’s like an ATM card smorgasbord. The system can be installed in under two minutes and the stored card details are easily captured remotely via Bluetooth by the crook. So unless someone notices the device, or its battery dies, a thief could quickly grab hundreds of accounts from just one skimmer.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Nobody wants to lose his or her hard earned money to some criminal, right? In most cases you’ll have an argument to recover your losses, but the cost in time and to the banks is real. Consider the time and effort required to deal with your bank, your card company, any pre-authorized payments you have, potentially time off work. It’d be a pretty bleak feeling to get taken like this. Many of us have gone through the hassle of replacing cards when somebody got the details and used them without asking permission. Most people assume it happened because of an online scam, but the new reality is that more and more opportunities exist for this type of crime.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
ATM skimmers run the gamut from cheapish homemade plastic to the sophisticated custom pinhole cameras, keypad overlays and magnetic readers that can go in or over the existing slot. Plastic parts can be printed with a 3D printer: paint for parts is easily matched to ape the real thing, and then using double-sided tape they’re slapped on in just a few minutes. Skimmers can be purchased on the web by sites boasting how effective their equipment is, card printing stock and equipment to make credit and debit cards is fairly easily sourced as well. All this aligns to make it pretty easy to understand why somebody with some money and no worry of arrest would want to get involved.
So what do they do with this info? Well, the thief heads back to wherever he left his gear and physically retrieves it, or remotely downloads the info. A new card is then printed with your stolen details — the aforementioned clone. Then a “runner” — there are job titles! – is dispatched to either take all the cash they can using bank machines, or sent shopping for easily sold goods. Credit cards, of course, offer even more flexibility since they can be used online at many more places than debit can.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PROTECT MYSELF?
There’s no magic answer yet, Interac Inc claims that Chip and Pin systems have done a lot to reduce debit and credit card fraud in Canada, but these systems are still backward compatible with the swipe system. The best advice is to pay some attention when paying for your transaction or taking out cash. Since the reader device is typically only secured with double sided tape, yank on it. You’re not going to break anything. Give the ATM a bit of scrutiny before using it. Does it look like the others nearby? Are there any strange-looking bits that bulge out? Look above the keypad or to the side for pinhole cameras. If anything seems out of place, don’t use it! Find another.
Cover your hand when entering your PIN number! It’s a really easy thing to do and that one step will absolutely make the collected card details worthless.
Call your bank, talk to them about security policies. Are you covered if anything should ever happen? Are they taking steps to work with card providers to create new or improve existing policies? Banks are slowly beginning to use Two-Factor authorization to protect you and your money. Two-Factor means you use your password and a one-off key to access online accounts or login to your bank. So even if a thief has your card details and password, without the key they can’t get in. Banks consider your card and PIN to be a two-factor system, though considering how simple it seems to be to get access, we’d suggest another layer wouldn’t hurt.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
There’s nothing vague about the law here. Theft is theft is theft, though; sometimes catching the people involved is difficult as the money can be spent abroad or on goods delivered to a P.O. box. Also, unfortunately, people often only contact the bank about a skimming-related crime and the bank sorts it out for the consumer. Once your bank has started the process to resolve it, call your local police and report it to them, too. Banks like paying out money about as much as you do, while it costs for them to spend on security, they’ll do it to stop fraud to protect
you their bottom line
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
There’s a wealth of great information out there about skimming and what current scams exist, arm yourself against them by taking an interest and protecting yourself by knowing a bit about them. Brian Krebs security site has a great series of articles on this very topic, I encourage you to take some time to read and check out all the pics of the various devices. Go have a peek at TwoFactorAuth.org, they maintain a great list of institutions that support two-factor and handy links to tweet to those that don’t.
[Image credit: bedharak / Flickr, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Shutterstock / Oliver Hoffmann, Brian Krebs / krebsecurity.com]
We know what you’re thinking, but a new app called Selfies is actually kind of fun, considering that it’s a barely-promoted one-off from Automattic (the company responsible for WordPress). It told TechCrunch that Selfies was in development for eight weeks or so as part of the Gravatar universal avatar app before it became a separate thing. Trying the app showed that its basic-ness is part of the kick, since it let us post our own pic right after logging on. (We also found it to be a little rough around the edges with a few crashes.) Right now, there’s just a single public feed showing ever photo, but the company has plans to filter the best content soon. You can try it now for yourself, but only on Android — the company narrowly picked that platform to launch it first thanks to a user poll.
So you want a gamepad to play that new platformer on your Windows PC, but you don’t relish the idea of buying an expensive peripheral that will collect dust after you’re done. Are you stuck using the keyboard? Not if Ideum has its way — it’s updating its GestureWorks Gameplay virtual controller app with Android support, letting you use your phone or tablet to steer the action instead of either a real gamepad or on-screen buttons. You can still tailor the controls for specific titles, so you won’t have to settle for a sub-par experience just because you jumped from Castle Crashers to Bastion. The new software supports more graphics standards, too, so more of your favorite games should be compatible.
You’ll have to spend $15 to get the full version of the new Gameplay app, which should be available on Steam either now or very shortly. That’s relatively costly for a utility, but the Android upgrade extends the software’s usefulness beyond tablets — it could save you from buying gamepads for most any Windows PC, and it will visiting friends join in on multiplayer sessions without having to bring dedicated hardware.
When I open my mailbox, I often find Amazon packages that I don’t remember ordering. But today’s surprise was a DVD of Sharknado, a movie I absolutely did not purchase. My first instinct was to contact Amazon and change my password, but then I found a note inside: “For you to test out the new Syfy Sync app with your Philips Hue lights.” Wait, what? A quick web search cleared things up pretty quickly — the latest Syfy Sync app enables full control of a Hue bridge (and connected lights) on the same network. The movie, app and lights work together, in theory, to bring you a more immersive entertainment experience.
So I began a desperate search for a laptop with a DVD drive. I found a decade-old Dell in my closet, but once it finally booted up, I discovered that it couldn’t read the movie. Fortunately, the app works with any version of the film, so I started streaming it from Netflix on my MacBook. After a few iPad reboots and some more fidgeting with the app, it started to change the color of my lights every few seconds. Some pairings made sense, like bright red to match an exploding shark, but there were plenty of missed opportunities, like flashing my lights when an ambulance came on screen. The experience is as cheesy as the film itself — there’s plenty of room for improvement, but if you have Hue and the latest version of Syfy Sync, it’s worth trying once.
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.
That word — “presence” — is at the heart of virtual reality. Game industry veteran Michael Abrash — formerly of Valve, where he worked on research and development; currently of Oculus VR, where he serves as “Chief Scientist” — described this ideal for VR during a talk in January 2014:
“It’s the sense of being someplace else while in virtual reality; many people feel as if they’ve been teleported. Presence is an incredibly powerful sensation, and it’s unique to VR; there’s no way to create it in any other medium.”
The medium’s history is littered with failed attempts, even from gaming’s biggest players (Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, anyone?).
Indeed, that’s the “magic” of virtual reality: being whisked away, instantly, to another world. You’re not looking at another world on a screen — you’re there. At least, that’s when VR works. The medium’s history is littered with failed attempts, even from gaming’s biggest players (Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, anyone?). But with Oculus Rift, even the first demos shown on a duct-taped, slapdash prototype were incredibly impressive. It just worked, even if it was clearly rough around the edges. And even with those early demos, a PC was required to power them. The same can be said for Sony’s Project Morpheus, powered by a $400 game console.
One early demo, dubbed “Tuscany” for its visual nods to the Italian region, wasn’t much to look at. The art was low-resolution; the in-world lighting was barely there; the level of detail in general was pretty low. But even with bare bones demos like Tuscany, the world was believable because the demo’s framerate was high enough and the headset was capable of refreshing video fast enough for it to seem real. Those demos seem rough now by contrast, but they’re still far ahead of what we’ve seen running on VR headsets powered by mobile phone processors.
MOBILE VR AS IT STANDS TODAY
We’ve heard very positive things from folks who’ve tried Samsung’s VR headset. The so-called “Gear VR” is still a development kit, and it’s powered by a Galaxy S4; we’re told that the consumer version will use a newer phone (maybe the Note 4?) with more horsepower. Though our sources only experienced a few demos, they repeatedly described them as “impressive,” specifically with the caveat “for a phone.”
Samsung still hasn’t officially acknowledged that its VR headset exists (that’s a real render of it above). Gear VR is said to be be unveiled in Germany at IFA, just a few weeks from now.
Google’s Cardboard has received similarly positive, though guarded, responses. TechCrunch‘s Greg Kumparak wrote back in June, “It’s actually kind of freaking wonderful. Is it an Oculus Rift killer? Hah – of course not. It’s made of cardboard. But it’s still awesome.” As he demonstrated in a video (above), a handful of apps — including major known quantities like YouTube and Google Earth — can be used in Cardboard right now, employing phones that already exist (there’s a Nexus 5 in the demonstration).
It’s certainly a different take. Rather than aim to provide “presence,” Google’s approach to VR seeks to provide an alternate viewing experience for existing content. YouTube, for instance, is simply an interactive VR app for viewing non-VR content. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily — it could act as an intro to VR for the mass market — but it’s not the same as providing “presence.”
Another VR device powered by mobile tech, GameFace Labs’ “GameFace” prototype, further highlights this difference. The same Tuscany demo running on the GameFace headset, scaled down for a mobile processor, provided a markedly different experience than what we’ve tried on the Oculus Rift. Are you still “in” Tuscany? Sure! But it looks an awful lot like Virtual Tuscany, rather than “Oh man, I’m in Tuscany!”
Though GameFace is impressive, the second Oculus Rift dev kit is an order of magnitude more adept. Beyond a much higher resolution screen, the second Rift dev kit comes with an additional camera for depth-tracking (just to barely scratch the surface of technical differences). That’s not meant as a slight at GFL, but to highlight how different these two approaches are to virtual reality. Simply put, they’re intended to deliver different experiences.
WHERE CASUAL AND BLEEDING EDGE VR DIVERGE
Unlike film or video games, where technical prowess can be trumped by other factors, major VR leaders argue that it’s a worthless medium without “presence.” To create presence, Oculus VR founder and Rift creator Palmer Luckey says that the tech has to be of a certain quality — specs that exceed the most advanced smartphones. Even the Rift’s second dev kit, which is far more technologically capable than the competition, is far from what he thinks is required for “good consumer virtual reality.” That means super high-res screens, high refresh rates (“90 Hz or higher”), and fast processors (read: actual computers, with dedicated graphics processing) to make all that happen. Luckey’s told me in interview after interview that standalone, untethered VR is the future of the medium (see above). But 10 years from now “future,” not 2014.
Google argues that the best time to get VR going — regardless of technological capability — is right now.
“We could theoretically plunk down a Titan in there. There’s nothing stopping us. But people will say, ‘This is hot! It only lasts for five minutes!’,” NVIDIA product manager Mithun Chandrasekhar told us in a recent interview. We asked about the limitations around mobile VR, and he joked that NVIDIA could — theoretically — put an expensive, high-powered GPU in a VR headset.
Of course, it’d be incredibly hot, heavy, and would require immense battery power.
Even if NVIDIA could shrink the GPU down in size and weight, power issues would overcome horsepower limitations. Battery technology simply isn’t keeping up with processor technology. “Battery is probably the biggest limitation,” Chandrasekhar said.
Google argues that the best time to get VR going — regardless of technological capability — is right now. “We want everyone to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way. That’s the goal of the Cardboard project,” the Cardboard website reads. Beyond expanding the reach of virtual reality, Google specifically calls out developers that it hopes will, “build the next generation of immersive digital experiences.” Silly as it might look, Google Cardboard and other mobile VR solutions look to offer a foundational experience for both the development community — you know, the folks who make this stuff really amazing — and for mainstream, non-technophiles.
TWO PATHS, ONE RESULT
Chances are, you don’t have a 4K screen on your smartphone. You might soon, but you probably don’t just yet. When you do — when we all do — the concept of mobile VR will seem a bit less gimmicky and a bit more like a real product. When processors are more capable, when batteries last longer, and the line between PC and mobile phone blurs just a bit more, mobile VR won’t feel like such a foundational step on the way to the promise of “presence.”
For now, mobile VR can serve as a taste of the medium. An amuse-bouche to the medium. A gateway drug to the presence you’ll find on devices like the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus. And that’s not a bad thing! Before long, devices like Rift and Morpheus will be rudimentary, their abilities easily accomplished on mobile, and the two virtual reality paths will (at least in part) rejoin.
Whether the goal is growing the medium, getting to market early, providing “presence,” or something else entirely, the result is the same: we all get to play with a bunch of rad VR headsets. Oh, and hopefully witness the birth of a major new medium. No big.
[Image credit: Valve (Steam Dev Days 2014 slide), SamMobile (Gear VR)]
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).
Source: Marcus Ash (Twitter)
When Amazon purchased Comixology, it was a herald of change: iOS users lost the ability to purchase comics in-app, Android users were gifted with a new purchasing system and, now,the digital book seller is going DRM-free. Sort of. Comixology CEO David Steinberger announced today that DRM-free backups of select comics are now available to download in PDF and CBZ format, giving readers the ability to enjoy their content outside of the Comixology ecosystem for the first time. That said, it’s somewhat limited: backup downloads are only available to book published by Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Zenoscope Entertainment, Thrillbent, Top Shelf Productions and MonkeyBrain Comics — in other words, publishers that have already dabbled with DRM-free comic distribution.
There’s no word if publishing juggernauts like DC or Marvel will make their books available for download (don’t count on it), but the option seems to be available for both big and small publishers. Even so, there’s quite a few title available (this editor’s list of downloadable backups tallied over 300 comics), all of which can be accessed under the “My Backups” tab of the user’s library. Sounds like a winner to us — though, Comixology does caution that fans of its “guided view” reading mode won’t be able to access it in their downloaded backups.
Apple’s set-top hobby has come a long way since its major refresh in 2010, thanks largely to a variety of services bringing different content to the platform. When it comes to gaming, however, the Apple TV isn’t exactly a powerhouse, despite being able to support it through AirPlay features — something similar to what Real Racing has done in the past. Another developer that’s made use of this particular second-screen kind of experience is Rolocule Games, and it just announced a new free title (with in-app purchases) dubbed Dance Party.
The game, which clearly takes a cue from Dance Central, comes in the form of an app and uses an iOS device as a motion controller, allowing players to see their virtual, groovy moves on the bigger screen by way of Apple TV. Dance Party also lets you challenge other people who have the application, even if they’re not in the same location as you. It may not be the best way to play games on the tiny box, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be fun.
Source: App Store