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ICYMI: Smashing bacteria, high-jumping roboroaches and more

ICYMI: Smashing bacteria, high-jumping roboroaches and more

Today on In Case You Missed It: Researchers from Seoul National University and UC Berkeley developed a robotic roach that jumps more than five feet high because people weren’t scared enough of robots as it is. A team from Brigham Young University wants to figure out how hard you have to hit bacteria to kill it. Apparently smashing them into walls at 670 MPH isn’t hard enough. And one enterprising maker spent more than two years building a fully functional Pong table — complete with a cubical “ball.”

As always, please share any great tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.


Overwatch review: Accessible, addictive and awfully good fun

If Overwatch was an animal, it would be a small, cute, friendly dog, intent on meeting everybody and licking their faces.

From the off, Overwatch is one of the most accessible and inviting games you will ever encounter – which is some achievement, given that it clearly wants to establish itself as a cornerstone of the burgeoning e-sports scene, whose existing games are notoriously forbidding for the uninitiated. Then again, it was created by the mighty Blizzard, of World of Warcraft and Diablo fame, so you would expect it to be a mould-breaker.

Overwatch certainly delights in confounding existing conventions. It’s essentially an online-only first-person shooter-slash-brawler, but eschews the usual grey, black and brown colour-palette employed by such games in favour of ultra-colourful, cartoonish graphics and a general cheery vibe. However, underneath the friendly graphics lies gameplay which is deadly serious and infernally addictive.

Overwatch review: Simplicity prevails

The key element in Overwatch’s appeal is its simplicity – not an attribute with which e-sports games are generally overencumbered.

It pitches you into a succession of six-versus-six team matches, in which you will be randomly assigned one of just three game-modes: Assault, in which team defends two capture-points while the other attempts to wrest control; Escort, in which one team escorts a sort of hover-lorry travelling down a predetermined path, while the other team attempts to stop it; and Control, in which teams vie to assert overall dominance over three capture-points.

Selecting Quick Play pitches you into the game with minimal fuss; seasoned players can setup custom games with friends, in which they can set their own rules; you can opt to play as a member of a human team against computer AI opponents (with selectable difficulty levels); and there’s a Weekly Brawl option, which sets players varying challenges. Blizzard is also readying a Competitive Play mode, which is where those who fancy themselves as the next e-sports stars can go to build a reputation.

Overwatch review: Heroes and heroes

Overwatch’s simplicity isn’t just structural: it extends to the gameplay. The one choice you must make for each round is which of the 21 Heroes to play as – they are very much the beating heart of the game.

There’s no gun-swapping or anything like that; the vast majority of the Heroes have just one gun (although a couple have a second weapon, and most have an alt-fire mode with a cooldown). Each Hero has two special abilities, with cooldowns, mapped to the gamepad bumpers on the console versions of the game, as well as an ultimate ability which is charged up by kills and general good play.


Your role within the team and play-style within each round is entirely governed by which of the fantastically diverse Heroes you choose. There are four broad Hero types: tank, assault, offence and defence. In the lobby area the game lets you know if your team is deficient in a certain type.

The Heroes run the entire gamut from support characters who can heal or erect shields, via snipers, melee-specialists, to builders who can erect turrets and dish out armour packs and more conventional soldier-types. Everyone will find a few that they favour, and working through as many Heroes as possible as you get into the game is a real joy. If you don’t get on with one, it’s easy to swap the next time you respawn.

Overwatch review: Frenetic matches

Overwatch’s matches are fast, frenetic and incredibly good fun. Another of the game’s secrets is the way in which Blizzard has balanced the characters, so that any of them can take out any of the others, given the correct approach. There is a tutorial, but once you start jumping into live matches you immediately pick up techniques.

The levels are great – pretty closed-in, typically featuring rabbit-warrens of streets and a decent amount of verticality. You soon learn the importance of sight-lines and hiding in nooks and crannies, as well as how best to employ the Heroes’ ultimate abilities. Which range from Widowmaker’s Infra-sight, which lets all her team-mates see incoming enemies, to Reaper’s Death Blossom, in which he spins around, discharging dual shotguns in all directions.


One slightly controversial element is the lack of any character progression – when you level-up, you’re rewarded with ephemera, such as new victory-phrases for particular characters, but everybody plays with Heroes that have exactly the same attributes. That policy is absolutely central to Overwatch’s appeal: you won’t find yourself being battered by ninja-players who have ground their characters up to superhuman levels. And anyway the matchmaking, as one would expect from a Blizzard game, is exemplary.

If one were to quibble – and it feels a bit churlish – you could question whether Overwatch is still a game you’ll playing a year down the line if your skills don’t place you in the potential-pro-player category. But Blizzard, with its World of Warcraft experience, is a past-master at adding new modes, maps and so on, so we suspect that won’t be an issue unlike with, for example, Star Wars Battlefront.

Oh, and we encountered some pretty vile comments from players over the voice-chat, which would certainly have been inappropriate for youngsters; you can turn off individual voice-channels, but it’s far too fiddly a process for you to perform in the hurly-burly of a match.


Blizzard has pulled off quite a feat with Overwatch: it’s an inviting, addictive, enormously enjoyable game for the masses which also has a good chance of establishing itself as an e-sport.

Overwatch is wonderfully polished and gloriously well-balanced, and the ideal first port of call if you want to find out what all the online gaming fuss is about. The legend of Blizzard rumbles on.


Twitter awarded bug bounty hunters $322,420 over two years

A total of 1,662 researchers earned some cash from Twitter’s bug bounty program since it launched in May 2014. Twitter has revealed that it received 5,171 reports and that it paid out a total of $322,420 over two years’ time. The smallest amount anyone ever got was $140, while the biggest was $12,040. Although bug hunting for Facebook sounds much more lucrative — the social network spent a million dollars within the first two years of its own program and awarded some researchers over $100,000 each — a single bug hunter for Twitter did make $54,000 in 2015.

Not to mention, the microblogging website has a standing offer of $15,000 for anyone who discovers a vulnerability that leaves it open to remote code executions. Twitter says it hasn’t received any yet, but that’s good news for the company. Besides talking about all the money that changed hands for the program, Twitter also revealed that only 20 percent of fixed bugs have been publicly disclosed. It says the company only discloses flaws “after they’ve been fixed, at the request of the researcher.” If you’re wondering what kind of vulnerabilities bounty hunters come across, Twitter lists some of the researchers’ most notable finds in the same post.

Source: Twitter


Europe will make publicly funded scientific research public

European Union (EU) ministers have agreed to make a huge amount of scientific research in the region available free of charge by 2020. The move will open up publicly funded papers and articles to a wide audience, helping individuals and businesses to make use of scientific insight. It’ll also make it simple for universities (and news publications, like this one) to access papers without having to pay heavy fees. It’s called Open Access, and it’s a big deal.

The motivation behind today’s decision is to make Europe a more attractive place to do business, and to spark innovation. Researchers will be able to look into one another’s work with ease, hopefully fostering an environment of collaboration. The official announcement namechecks not only “doctors and teachers,” but also “entrepreneurs;” a clear sign that the EU sees this as a very startup-friendly move.

To be clear, the decision will only affect the publication of research that is either fully or partly funded by public funds. Presently, that’s not the case: the results of a lot of public-private research and even some publicly funded research are behind paywalls on the sites of science journals.

In addition to the free-for-all on science papers, the EU is extending the decision to scientific data. To do this, it’s decreeing that data behind the articles and research be made publicly available and easy to reuse. In this case, it does note that there are well-founded reasons for not allowing this, such as “intellectual property rights, security or privacy.” Where warranted, researchers will be able to keep the data behind closed doors. This exception’s importance can’t be understated: without the caveat, this effort to spark innovation could have led to the exact crowd the EU is hoping to attract heading elsewhere for fear of losing their competitive edge.

It’s unclear what the knock-on effects could be. On the upside, sharing of knowledge is good for the scientific community, Europe and the world as a whole. But players on the periphery may see the move as troubling. Scientific journals rely on money from universities and businesses to sustain themselves, and by making a vast swathe of research free to access, the EU could be seriously draining an income resource.

Although there are still plenty of privately funded research initiatives, and these would be unaffected, many companies partner with public institutions and governments in order to further their research, and journals will no longer be able to make money from those papers. It’s thought that journals will charge authors for publishing papers, which could introduce its own problems.

Today’s announcement is a big win for Open Access advocates. The Netherlands, which currently holds the EU council presidency (it rotates every six months), had floated the idea back in April, but few believed it would gain such widespread approval so quickly. Today’s decision came from the EU’s Competitiveness Council, which incorporates ministers from every EU member state. All parties voted unanimously in favor of the proposal.

Source: The Netherlands EU Presidency 2016


NBC will air the 2016 Rio Olympics in 4K, HDR and Atmos

NBC has announced that it will make content from this year’s Olympic Games available to carriers in 4K and HDR, however there’s one little catch. In a setup that will seem familiar for early HDTV adopters who still can’t get Sony’s “we brought chips… and salsa!” ad out of their heads 12 years later*, 4K UHD footage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, swimming, track and field, basketball, the men’s soccer final, and judo is coming home on 24 hour tape delay. NBC will provide a downconverted version of the 8K feed Olympic Broadcasting Services and Japan’s NHK are experimenting with, to 4K, and present it in HDR with Dolby Atmos surround sound audio. According to NBC Sports president Gary Zenkel, “The Olympics have been a consistent driver of technological advancements, and Rio will be no different.”

Of course, the big question — for those properly equipped with a 4K TV set — is will your provider actually make the content available from NBC? We haven’t received official confirmations yet, but with DirecTV broadcasting live 4K channels and Dish pushing Ultra HD to its latest TV boxes those seem like good candidates right off the bat. Multichannel News points out that Comcast has said it will begin distributing an HDR-ready Xi5 box by July, and has plans for a 4K-ready Xi6 set-top.

The 2016 Rio Olympics will start on August 5th, so you’ve got until August 6th to get your home theater setup together — or find a friend who does.

*NBC broadcast the 2004 Olympics in HD on 24 hour tape delay, however because of a mix-up, one Sony Wega ad played repeatedly all week, earning the ire of early high definition adopters who tuned in to the channel. It feature a schlub named Todd, watching sports in high definition who looked out his window to find a mass of people asking to come up and join him. The tag line was when the crowd exclaimed “We brought chips,” followed by a single voice saying “…and salsa. It echoes in my nightmares to this day.

Source: NBC Sports


Latest robot roach can leap like the real thing

Look away entomophobes: a collaboration between South Korea’s Seoul National University and UC Berkeley has created an unholy robotic cockroach that can not only crawl around to gross you out, but can also jump a solid five feet in the air and then prop itself up and keep on walking.

The JumpRoACH is a simple, two-ounce device with six crawling feet and a diamond-shaped jumping/launching mechanism powered by eight stretchy latex bands and small DC motor. While the usefulness of a robotic insect is debatable, it is definitely staying true to its source material. the major robotics breakthrough here is the robo-roach’s ability to actually control the power of its tiny catapult mechanism and time its launch so it makes the jump. While the JumpRoACH (thankfully) can’t fly just yet, it does have wings it can open to flip itself over onto its feet and keep on marching into your nightmares. Observe:

While this is not the first robotic cockroach designed at UC Berkeley, we can all be thankful that we’re not dealing with an army of actual robot zombie cockroaches.


Activists say Vietnam shut down Facebook during Obama’s visit

During President Obama’s three-day trip to Vietnam this week, authorities in the country blocked access to Facebook in an attempt to silence political dissidents, according to reports from two activist organizations. Digital-rights group Access Now and local pro-democracy organization Viet Tan collected reports from within the country and concluded that Facebook was fully blocked or restricted in Vietnam from Sunday through Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Blocking Facebook is a piece of the Vietnamese government’s broader strategy to suppress the use of social networks by political activists planning protests in the country, Reuters says. Vietnamese authorities blocked the site a handful of times in May amid protests over an environmental disaster that resulted in mass fish deaths along Vietnam’s coast. Access to Facebook was shut down on Sunday as pro-democracy groups called for a boycott of parliamentary elections in the country.

Other nations have blocked or restricted access to Facebook in efforts to halt political unrest, including Egypt, China and Bangladesh. One person on the ground in Vietnam tells Engadget that it’s commonplace to see the internet throttled or Facebook blocked as tensions rise in the country — seeing a downed social network is one way citizens know to check the news.

Why did you block Facebook in Vietnam????😡😜

— Nguyen Le Chau Tue (@TriTue_NT) May 22, 2016

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Reuters


Google and Ray Kurzweil are making chatbots together

While we don’t often hear Ray Kurzweil’s name associated with Google products, Mountain View hired him back in 2012 to work on unspecified machine learning and language processing projects. Now, the famous futurist has finally revealed one of the projects his team has been working on: chatbots that can talk like humans do. He lifted the veil on the big G’s chatbot initiative at the latest Singularity conference — an annual conference on science, tech and the future.

Although Kurzweil didn’t spill a lot of details, he did say that one of those chatbots is named Danielle. Since it’s based on a character he wrote for one of his unpublished novels, we’re guessing they’re feeding it samples of his writing to give it the personality he envisions.

The futurist is known for his prediction that AIs will pass the Turing test in 2029, and developing these bots is a step in that direction. Kurzweil says they’re planning to release some of the chatbots they’ve been working on later this year. Hopefully, Google learned from Microsoft’s experience, so Danielle doesn’t turn out like Tay.

Via: The Verge

Source: Singularity Videos (YouTube)


Showrunner / executive producer leaves Netflix’s talk show

Netflix’s first talk show is finally here, but less than a month after launching it will be moving forward without showrunner/executive producer Bill Wolff. Deadline reported the TV veteran’s departure but didn’t give a clue as to why he’s leaving after less than a month and just nine episodes. Chelsea Handler will continue to executive produce her show, and the showrunner role will remain vacant, at least for now.

The talk show and its near-live format have been a big departure for Netflix, and so far, I haven’t watched enough to see if it’s working. That’s despite a few Netflix innovations to make this a truly worldwide show, enabling distribution in over 200 countries and a number of languages just a few hours after each episode is recorded. With three new episodes every week, it’s hard to know if Netflix will be able to wait for audiences to find the show and binge watch later, like they do with a lot of its content, so let us know — are you tuning in to see if Chelsea can “revolutionize” the talk show?

Are you watching ‘Chelsea’ on Netflix?

Source: Deadline


Is Jawbone about to go out of business?

It looks like Jawbone isn’t doing so well.

The company, which is known for making both speakers and fitness trackers, is reportedly ending production of all its fitness trackers and wants to sell its speaker business, all of which makes it appear like Jawbone might be going out of business. According to a report from Tech Insider, Jawbone not only ceased making its Up line of fitness trackers but has sold all the remaining inventory to a third-party reseller at a discount.

Meanwhile, a report from Fortune claimed Jawbone is hoping to find a buyer for its speaker business. The company was a pioneer in the portable Bluetooth speaker space with its Jambox line of speakers. In our 2013 review of the Mini Jambox, for instance, we came away really impressed. Its fitness trackers, however, didn’t receive as much critical success and seemed to struggle when pitted against Fitbit’s affordable offerings.

Jawbone was reportedly forced to sell its UP2, UP3, and UP4 devices to a third-party reseller at a discounted price. That news, when combined with the other report about Jawbone liquidating its remaining speaker inventory, has led many to wonder what Jawbone has left to hawk at consumers. Fortune said Jawbone wants to focus on wearables still, while an older Tech Insider report said Jawbone is working on a “clinical-grade” tracker.Jawbone hasn’t introduced a new product since early 2015, and it laid off 15 per cent of its global workforce last autumn. But the company did manage to raise $165 million in funding last January. We’ve contacted Jawbone for a comment and will update when we learn more.

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