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Apple Releases Second macOS Sierra 10.12.3 Beta for Public Beta Testers

Apple today seeded the second beta of an upcoming macOS Sierra 10.12.3 update to public beta testers, one week after seeding the first public beta and one day after seeding the second 10.12.3 beta to developers.

Beta testers who have signed up for Apple’s beta testing program will receive the 10.12.3 macOS Sierra beta through the Software Update mechanism in the Mac App Store.

Those who want to be a part of Apple’s beta testing program can sign up to participate through the beta testing website, which gives users access to both iOS and macOS Sierra betas. Betas should not be installed on a primary machine due to the potential for instability.

According to Apple’s release notes, the 10.12.3 update “improves the stability, compatibility, and security of your Mac.” No specific changes, bug fixes, or feature additions were discovered in the first two developer betas.

Related Roundup: macOS Sierra
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Apple Releases Second iOS 10.2.1 Beta for Public Beta Testers

Apple today seeded the second beta of an upcoming iOS 10.2.1 update to public beta testers for testing purposes, one week after releasing the first iOS 10.2.1 public beta and one day after providing the second beta to developers.

Beta testers who have signed up for Apple’s beta testing program will receive the new iOS 10.2.1 beta update over-the-air after installing the proper certificate on their iOS device.

Those who want to be a part of Apple’s beta testing program can sign up to participate through the beta testing website, which gives users access to both iOS and macOS Sierra betas. Betas are not stable and include many bugs, so they should be installed on a secondary device.

It isn’t known what features are included in iOS 10.2.1, but as a minor 10.2.x update, it appears to focus on bug fixes and performance improvements rather than major outward-facing changes.

No new features were discovered in the first two developer iOS 10.2.1 betas, and we likely won’t know the full extent of the changes until the update is released with full release notes.

Related Roundup: iOS 10
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Large-scale ad fraud ring is stealing millions of dollars a day

Security firm White Ops says it has discovered an ad fraud scheme raking in up to $3 million per day, making it the largest such operation ever. Called Methbot, because of drug references in the code, it tricks ad networks into playing videos on fake websites, which are in turn “watched” by bots that simulate real users. The networks then pay the scammers, reportedly located in Russia, effectively flushing advertisers’ and publishers’ money down the toilet.

The operation is unprecedented in its complexity, the security firm says, and may have cost the hackers as much as several hundred thousand dollars per day. To start with, the scammers registered over 6,000 fake domains that spoofed legitimate sites like ESPN and Fox News, then generated over a quarter million fake URLs that could only do one thing: host video ads.

Played on the right, high-profile sites, a video ad can garner $13 per 1,000 views on average, according to White Ops. The hacking crew (dubbed Ad Fraud Komanda or AFK13) was able to trick the ad service algorithms into playing the video ads on its faked domains, rather than the real sites. (White Ops declined to mention which digital ad companies were affected.)

The massive fraud operation represents a significant threat to the integrity of the ecosystem.

That was part one of the trick, but it doesn’t amount to anything unless someone clicks on the video. That’s where the bot network comes in — AFK13 hired data center space and aimed traffic from more than 570,000 bots at its faked sites. It also studied ad networks’ quality verification processes, put in place to defeat ad-impression fraud schemes.

With that data in hand, it illegally obtained IP addresses from at least two regional Internet registries, showing the bot traffic as coming from Verizon, Comcast and other US-based ISPs. The seemingly American bots then duplicated the actions of real users via fake mouse clicks and movements, along with social network logins and other tricks.

Working with media intelligence firm AD/FIN, White Ops figures that AFK13 racked up 300 million impressions, valued at up to $3.9 million, per day. That would make it the largest ad fraud scheme ever, easily besting the ZeroAccess botnet. It’s not clear how the fraudsters obtained payments (presumably, the ad networks need banking and contact information to send the money) but we’ve reached out to White Ops for more information.

The security firm has partnered with the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) to spread the word about the scam, and provided a list of known Methbot IP addresses and fake URLs and domains. TAG told Marketing Land that it “the massive fraud operation represents a significant threat to the integrity of the ecosystem,” adding that it has alerted 130 compliance officers at the largest digital ad companies.

Source: White Ops


‘Civilization VI’ adds Poland to the fray

Civilization VI was rightly lauded as a return to form for Firaxis following the unfortunate diversion that was Beyond Earth. But, as you’d expect from the first iteration of a complex 4X strategy game, things haven’t been perfect. An update last month brought DirectX 12 support and a considerable interface upgrade, along with the standard balancing and AI improvements. This month, the game’s developers are adding more features, refinements and, for a price, a new civilization to toy with.

For full notes on what’s new, you can head to Firaxis’ website. There’s no headline item per se, but the addition of an “Alert” action that lets you sleep units until they see an enemy, and killing the bug that had Great Admirals randomly spawning on top of wonders (making them functionally useless). Rest assured there are plenty of balancing, AI tuning, aesthetic and bug fixes that should add some polish to the game.

Speaking of adding polish, a new $4.99 (£4) DLC adds the ability to play as Jadwiga, Poland’s Medieval queen. Jadwiga has some interesting abilities, not least of which is the power to steal territory by building encampments or forts. Doing so will also help spread your religion to nearby cities. Sure, it sounds like a very quick way to get someone to declare war on you, but adding a “culture bomb” to standard military buildings is a very interesting mechanic nonetheless. The pack also comes with a 60-turn scenario that will have you defending Poland, Prague and Vienna from invaders.

Firaxis appears to be taking a different approach to updates and DLC this time around, and that’s understandable. With Civilization V, it released a game that, while offering many improvements, stripped out much of the functionality of the previous title. That enabled it to release DLC that significantly expanded on the original game. As Civilization VI arrived pretty much feature-complete, it seems the developer is content to just release small iterative updates for now, with fresh scenarios and civilizations appearing as DLC.

Source: Firaxis


NASA dominated space and social media in 2016

“We all have a thirst for wonder,” American astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in his sci-fi novel Contact. “It’s a deeply human quality.” And it’s partly thanks to this “thirst” that NASA had the space game on lock this year, even though it doesn’t have access to as much money as it used to. The agency stepped into 2016 armed with $19.3 billion in government funding. Yes, that’s almost a $1 billion more than what the administration originally asked for, but it’s also significantly lower than NASA’s budget in previous years, when adjusted for inflation.

NASA: Year in review

This relatively smaller allowance can’t sustain the whole agency when it’s working on huge projects like the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule. Combined, those two cost NASA $3 billion a year. As a result, some areas get more money than others. For fiscal year 2017, for instance, the government set aside $1 billion more for the division in charge of developing SLS and Orion. However, research and development will get 80 percent less than what it got for 2016.

You wouldn’t guess that the space agency has money troubles based on how its missions dominated headlines and made a splash on social media this year, though. NASA started using social media to win legions of post-Apollo fans’ hearts and make it more relatable than other government agencies in 2008. Veronica McGregor, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s head of communication, was looking for a way to get people to care that the Phoenix lander was going to touch down on Mars when somebody told her about this fledgling social network called Twitter. “At the spur of the moment,” she told Quartz, “I decided I would tweet as the lander in the first person.”


That’s right: Just a few years ago, people couldn’t care less that a major Mars mission was reaching its destination. Today, fans wake up at dawn to watch live coverage of rocket launches for routine resupply missions headed for the International Space Station (ISS).

John Yembrick, the agency’s social-media manager, told Engadget that NASA now employs a pack of social-media experts to handle 500 accounts across multiple platforms. The agency is active on most social networks and even started exploring teens’ favorite online haunts, Tumblr and Snapchat. These employees, who make it a point to avoid scientific jargon, are divided into teams to manage different accounts. There are, however, four core members who run the main @NASA handle.

The experts’ wit, humor and superb use of pop-culture references translate into likes and shares that help NASA reach even more potential fans. Case in point: The purple nebula the main @NASA team tweeted in honor of Prince is so far the agency’s most liked and retweeted post for 2016.

A purple nebula, in honor of Prince, who passed away today.

— NASA (@NASA) April 21, 2016

NASA now boasts 123.7 million followers across all social-media accounts, or 36 million more than the total from November last year. And that number will likely continue to grow now that it has begun wielding the power of video. It aired a Snapchat Story in May showing the app’s young users how astronauts live aboard the ISS. Recently, another Story showed how astronauts train and prepare for a six-month mission aboard humanity’s home in space.

From their end, ISS residents regularly post impressive images and videos of our planet taken from high up. In May this year, Tim Kopra and Jeff Williams even chatted with Mark Zuckerberg through Facebook Live while aboard the space station.

#SpaceWalkSelfie Back on the grid! Great first spacewalk yesterday. Now on to the next one next week. #YearInSpace

— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) October 29, 2015

Another factor that contributed to the massive media attention showered upon NASA this year is its ties with private space companies. Its projects with SpaceX made a lot of noise, and it certainly helped that the company’s chief (Elon Musk) enjoys rockstar status in the tech industry. NASA’s work with Boeing, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and other space corporations didn’t go unnoticed, either.

While NASA’s social-media strategy is undoubtedly effective, the agency would have nothing to promote without the missions themselves. It started 2016 on a strong note, thanks to New Horizons’ success in late 2015, which brought us new images of Pluto’s complex surface and data on its terrain and potential liquid ocean.

In January, its Earth observation satellite, Jason-3, finally made its way to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 flight after a series of delays. Jason-3 carries instruments that give it the capability to measure the height of the ocean’s surface all over the globe “with very high accuracy” for scientific research.

A few months later, in April, a SpaceX rocket flew to the ISS with Bigelow Aerospace’s inflatable habitat in tow. Crew members attached an expandable module called BEAM to the space station to see if it could endure the harsh conditions of space for the next two years. They’ve been visiting the module regularly since they climbed into it for the first time in June, and recently confirmed that BEAM is doing great. It looks like inflatable modules really could be viable space habitats.

NASA’s biggest story for 2016, however, is Juno’s arrival at Jupiter. After traveling for five years, the probe finally reached the gas giant July 4th and even set a record for being the most distant solar-powered spacecraft. The event provided yet another example of the agency’s exemplary use of social media:

Check your attitude. Starting to turn in preparation for main engine burn. #Jupiter

— NASA’s Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) July 5, 2016

Main engine burn is go. I’m burnin’, burnin’, burnin’ for you, #Jupiter.

— NASA’s Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) July 5, 2016

Engine burn complete and orbit obtained. I’m ready to unlock all your secrets, #Jupiter. Deal with it.

— NASA’s Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) July 5, 2016

Juno has been beaming back photos ever since — some even gave us a glimpse of the planet’s rarely seen poles. A few months after it began orbiting Jupiter, though, the space explorer’s engine went out of whack and forced it to shut down its instruments. Thankfully, it’s now doing just fine and completed its latest flyby earlier this month, on December 11th.

While it didn’t get quite as much online attention as Juno did, the launch of OSIRIS-Rex was another notch on NASA’s belt this year. OSIRIS-Rex will reach its destination, an asteroid named Bennu, in a couple of years. Once there, the spacecraft will go to work mapping the 1,650-foot rock and taking its temperature every two seconds. It’s also expected to bring home a chunk of the celestial body, which astronomers believe could contain clues about the beginning of the solar system and life on Earth.

NASA celebrated another major victory in mid-November, when it completed the long-awaited Hubble successor. The James Webb Space Telescope has been in development for over two decades; it’s a NASA-led collaboration of 17 countries and has a much larger mirror than Hubble.

Image: Northrop Grumman

Since having a larger eye means it has a more powerful ability to peer into the past, its main goals include looking for light from the first stars that formed after the Big Bang. The data it beams back could help astronomers understand the evolution of galaxies and the origin of life. Despite James Webb’s completion, NASA is far from laying Hubble to rest. Earlier this year, astronomers from all over the world used the Great Observatory to spot the most distant galaxy we’ve discovered. In fact, Hubble will continue providing astronomers everywhere with valuable data for at least five more years.

A few days after NASA and its collaborators finished putting James Webb together, the agency’s and NOAA’s most advanced weather satellite called GOES-4 left the planet. It’s the first of the four advanced satellites that the partners are planning to launch under the GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) initiative. Together, the four of them can scan the Western Hemisphere five times faster than their current counterparts can and churn out images every 30 seconds. That will give NOAA the capability to monitor wildfires, hurricanes and other phenomena in real time.

NASA’s other missions weren’t idly sitting around while the agency was launching new spacecraft, either. The Dawn probe sent back the closest images of the dwarf planet Ceres we’ve seen, while New Horizons continued to enrich our knowledge of Pluto. Cassini provided a better look at the second-largest methane sea on Saturn’s moon Titan. Closer to home, on Mars, the Curiosity rover kept driving around and sending back more data and pictures of a dusty, rocky world.

Image: NASA

In March, astronaut Scott Kelly came home after living on the ISS for a year as part of NASA’s efforts to determine the effects of long-term space travel on the human body. Before his flight home, though, he grew a flower on the orbiting lab for the first time. His fellow astronaut Kate Rubins, on the other hand, was responsible for another first: She sequenced DNA in microgravity using a USB-sized MinION sequencer. Rubins and her colleague Jeff Williams also finished the installation of a parking dock for space taxis in August. When SpaceX and Boeing take up the task of ferrying astronauts to the ISS, that dock will serve as home to their Crew Dragon and Starliner vehicles.

Back here on the ground, the agency continued building and rigorously testing the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule. It kickstarted a number of missions, as well, even though the switch in administration could shake things up. NASA’s projects typically require long-term planning, you see, and a new administration could disrupt its plans or even shut specific missions down. Yembrick told Engadget, however, that the agency remains optimistic in the face of possible changes:

“We believe that future leaders will be enthusiastic about continuing the important work that NASA has been engaged in over these past several years, including the Journey to Mars.”

In fact, NASA has already begun preparing for future endeavors. It announced several new missions this year, including the construction of an exoplanet-hunting tool. The agency also introduced the next-gen rover for the red planet, the Mars 2020, which will surely help sate fans’ hunger for anything and everything space in the years to come.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.


USPS made an ornament that displays package tracking updates

Shipping presents to loved ones during the busy holiday months can be a stressful endeavor, but the US Postal Service is testing something new this year that puts a seasonal spin on the task. Officially called “The Most Wonderful Ornament,” the Christmas decoration changes color as the the status of your package is updated. When your package is out for delivery, the ornament lights up blue. Red means the box has been dropped off and green will glow when the recipient has opened it.

So, how does this work? Well, using cellular technology and a sensor that determines when the box is open, the USPS can provide delivery updates in a much more festive fashion than having to check your phone on computer regularly. The ornament is integrated with the existing tracking system to fetch information and flash its light the appropriate color.

Unfortunately, the USPS is only doing limited a limited trial this year, so you won’t be able to nab one to help with your tracking duties. However, the plan is to continue to refine the device and its features, so perhaps it will be available to the masses during a future holiday season. For now, you can catch the ornament in action via the video down below.



France is the first to use drones for its national mail service

It’s no longer surprising to see postal services experimenting with delivering mail using drones. However, France is kicking things up a notch: its national mail service will be the first to deliver packages by drone on a regular route. DPDgroup, the express courier subsidiary of the mail service, is running a test program where a hexacopter drone (not shown here) will carry packages up to 6.6 pounds along a 9.3-mile route in France’s southern Provence region.

These are commercial customers using dedicated spaces to collect their orders, so you can’t strictly compare this to Amazon’s recent home delivery in the UK. It would be considerably more challenging to deliver to individuals, who don’t have the luxury of secure areas or readily available staff. However, the routine nature of the experiment is a big deal. It’s a step toward using drones as an everyday aspect of mail service instead of limiting them to special occasions. DPDgroup sees this as particularly useful for deliveries in hard-to-access areas like islands and mountains, but it could help in any situation where conventional trucks would be impractical.

Via: Motherboard

Source: DPDgroup


Microsoft updates Beam streaming to better compete with Twitch

Microsoft is getting its newly-acquired Beam livestreaming service ready for Xbox and Windows with a big new update rolling out today in beta. Beam’s low-latency tech lets you rapidly interact with your favorite streamers, and even play along, compared to the more passive Twitch experience. It’s improved the already-quick latency by five times, increased the max bitrate to 10 Mbps and now supports 60 FPS render speeds at up to 2,560 x 1,440 resolution.

There’s also a new homepage, a refreshed UI language, logo and design, plus “deep chat improvements.” Those include inline emoticon auto completion, an improved polling UI that gives you the ability to see what your friends voted on, and a system that can better handle network errors. To top it off, Beam added an HTML5 player that eliminates Flash and brings more controls, better VOD playback and improved browser support.

As a prelude to Xbox and Windows support, you can now log into beam with your Xbox Live handle, “with plans to eventually make Xbox Live the best (and only) way to sign into Beam,” the company says. If you don’t have a Microsoft account, you can convert your Beam credentials at any time. While that may be “jarring” for long-time users, the login requirement will be “cool for the community” thanks to Microsoft’s scaling, security, marketing and social power, Beam says.

Beam reiterated that Xbox One and Windows support is coming sometime this winter and said it will bring new hybrid applications to mobile in 2017, with technical details to come later. “We’re no longer the scrappy startup we were last year, and with the resources of Microsoft behind us, we’re … evaluating how we can make every aspect of the site more smooth, stable, and epic,” says Beam CEO Matt Salsamendi.

Even with Microsoft’s might behind it, Beam has just 100,000 monthly users as of August, far from Twitch’s 100 million monthly user count. The new update shows, at least, that Microsoft is putting some effort into it. As a reminder, the new features are in beta, and the company is looking for feedback on how everything works.

(Thanks, Kristy)

Source: Beam


2017 Honda CR-V With CarPlay Launches Today

Honda has announced its 2017 CR-V, compatible with CarPlay and Android Auto, goes on sale today at dealerships in the United States. The fifth-generation SUV has a suggested starting price of $24,045.

CarPlay and Android Auto are available on a 7-inch touchscreen built into the dashboard on select trims. The 2017 CR-V joins the 2016 and later Accord, 2016 and later Civic, 2016 Clarity Fuel Cell Sedan, 2017 Pilot, and 2017 Ridgeline among Honda’s CarPlay-supported vehicles in the United States.

CarPlay brings Maps, Phone, Messages, Music, Podcasts, and a number of third-party apps, such as Spotify, to a vehicle’s dashboard. Apple’s in-car software platform can be controlled with Siri and your vehicle’s built-in controls for convenient access to common iPhone features. It is compatible with iPhone 5 and later models.

Related Roundup: CarPlay
Tag: Honda
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Uber Update Lets You Set a Friend’s Location as a Ride Destination

Uber today announced an update to its app that makes it easier to hail a ride and set a destination directly to person in your iPhone contacts list. After syncing contacts to Uber, users can type a friend’s name into the “Where To” box in the app, and Uber will then send a request to that person to share their location with you, which can be set as a destination.

The app can also update friends and family with a feature that sends your ETA to their phone as you ride in the Uber and make it closer to the drop-off point. Following negative reactions to background location tracking, some users might be apprehensive about sharing their contacts list with the app, however.

Where are you? Where’s that again? These are common questions we ask friends and family when meeting up. If you’re catching up with friends when out of town, meeting your sister at the mall, or joining coworkers for drinks, now you can skip the back and forth. Just Uber directly to them! So skip the back and forth, forget the address, and get straight to whom you’re meeting up with.

In addition to the new contacts sync update, Uber is also introducing Snapchat filters and direct integration with the popular photo-sharing app. Riders will be able to unlock “custom Uber filters” during a ride, including an ETA filter that includes the text of how long is left on a trip. The Snapchat integration can be found in each user’s feed in Uber.

Uber is available to download from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]

Tag: Uber
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