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28
Jan

Oculus explains how room-scale VR taxes your USB ports


We’ve been dealing with USB for about two decades now, and to be honest, we’re not usually asking that much from it. Plug in an adapter, microphone or game controller, then keep it moving. All of that changes, however, when it comes to virtual reality. As Oculus explains, plugging in a bunch of room scale sensors sends enough data through the ports to potentially overwhelm the 400MB/s capacity of the controller chip on your motherboard.

Because of this, the answer isn’t to simply plug in a hub and get more high-speed USB 3.0 ports, in fact, Oculus says you should probably get good results by using two USB 3.0 connections, plus one older USB 2.0 port if you need to go beyond two sensors to get some more mobility in your VR experiences. The blog is currently helping gamers get through the setup process, so go ahead and check out all of the posts to make sure everything is positioned and working correctly.

Source: Oculus Blog

28
Jan

NASA uses pressure-sensitive paint to test its rockets


How can NASA make sure its rockets are ready to handle the intense buffeting produced during launch? Scientists have recently started using pressure-sensitive paint that reacts with oxygen to produce light. That way, scientists can actually visualize where the changing forces act on the rocket as it simulates acceleration during testing.

Source: NASA

28
Jan

Android Central 322: The electric condom


This week, Daniel, Flo and Jerry talk about the biggest upcoming launches of the year: the Samsung Galaxy S8, the LG G6. Can LG get a leg up in 2017 by releasing its phone a month before Samsung?

And we now know that Google I/O will be returning to Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheater, but did you know that was where the Grateful Dead got its start?

Oh, and Jerry tells a story about an electric condom that you just can’t miss. Trust us.

Image credit: hot-dog.org

Podcast MP3 URL: http://traffic.libsyn.com/androidcentral/androidcentral322.mp3

28
Jan

Windows 10 finally displays download progress for purchased apps


Turns out that Game Mode and streaming via Windows 10’s built-in Beam app were only the tip of the update iceberg. A post on the Windows 10 blog also details a handful of extra additions for folks in the Windows Insider program.

First up? In a move to further Windows’ accessibility, the Edge browser can now read e-books aloud. Edge also has some colorful new emoji t replace the monochrome ones that’d show up on websites. Beyond that there’s also support for subtitles during the setup process (again furthering the OS’ accessibility features), a name for night mode that makes sense — “night light” — and a download progress bar for apps and games grabbed from the Windows Store.

There’s a raft of quality-of-life improvements too like fixes for crashing apps, screen flickering and even stopping Edge from crashing while sharing PDFs. Listing them all here would take quite awhile, so be sure to hit the source link for the full rundown.

Source: Windows 10 blog

28
Jan

Researchers figure out trick to a fruit fly’s acrobatic flight


If you’ve ever tried to swat a fruit fly out of the air, you know how crafty the little buggers can be at avoiding your swings. Turns out that not only are they incredibly agile, they’re super efficient as well, using only 12 muscles (each controlled by a single neuron) to propel itself through the air. And, thanks to the efforts of a team at CalTech, we know why these flies are so nimble. It’s all in the muscles.

Mammalian wings are really just modified arms with skin stretched across. They all still contain shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger joints as well as the associated muscle and neural processing power that such structures require. This is a resource-intensive design, the polar opposite of an insect wing. Their wings are singular structures controlled by a complex “wing hinge” which itself is driven by sets of power and steering muscles.

“Insect power muscles are the most powerful muscles in any animal on the planet,” Thad Lindsay, a CalTech postdoc and first author of the study, said in a statement. “However, this means that they are ill-suited to actually control wing movement precisely. That’s where the tiny steering muscles come in.” There are two kinds of steering muscles: tonic muscles, which serve as the continuous fine motor control for each wing, and phasic muscles, which only kick in when the fly needs to make a hard turn or other powerful course correction.

Fruit Fly "flight simulator"

To understand precisely how these muscles worked together, the CalTech team bred a race of fly that produced a glowing protein whenever calcium was present. The flies use calcium to initiate muscle contractions so the stronger the contraction, the brighter the glow. Then the team hooked up these flies to a — I kid you not — “fruit-fly flight simulator” which displays different visual cues that instigate the fly to change course. By studying how much, and in which combination, the flies’ muscles lit up, the team managed to suss out how their charges so deftly manage to avoid mid-air collisions. And now that they understand how simplistic flies do it, the team hopes their research will help explain how more complex motor functions developed in more evolved animals.

Source: CalTech

28
Jan

7 best encrypted messaging apps for all the Edward Snowdens out there


Love him or hate him, Edward Snowden made many of us more aware.

We now pay close attention to our online privacy and care about things like metadata, surveillance, digital snooping, and data theft. While governments and companies wage war about how much of our information should be accessible in different situations, app developers are giving us the tools to decide for ourselves what we want to share.

They’re creating encrypted services and launching end-to-end encryption options we can enable in apps. With these tools, we’re able to make sure that only us – and the people we’re communicating with – can read what is sent. Nobody in between, not the government nor even the companies and developers offering these tools, can access it.

Many different departments and police agencies prefer to have access to all our communications in order to stop criminals, and because of that, end-to-end encrypted services, which again means only the sender and the recipient are able to read messages, are hotly debated. But privacy campaigners warn that undermining encryption is a rights violation.

Sometimes encryption happens automatically, so there’s no need to turn on a setting. Other times, it’s trickier. You may even need to set up secret chats. In the post-Snowden era, you can never be too concerned about your privacy. With that in mind, here are some of the best encrypted messaging apps available now for Android and iOS devices.

  • WhatsApp rolls out end-to-end encryption
  • Facebook Messenger adds end-to-end encryption… sort of

Best encrypted messaging apps

In alphabetical order:

Facebook Messenger

Facebook

Download: Android (free) | iOS (free)

Facebook Messenger barely made this list, because technically, it isn’t end-to-end encrypted. We only included it because it’s the world’s most popular messaging app, and it does actually offer an optional end-to-end encryption feature, called Secret Conversation, which you can enable for individual chat conversations from an Android or iOS device (it’s not yet available for desktops).

Messages sent using end-to-end encryption won’t support GIFs, calls, or videos, but Facebook users will be able to set timers on messages, enabling the threads to self-destruct after a set amount of time, sort of like Snapchat Snaps. Messenger’s encryption is also based on Open Whisper System’s Signal Protocol, which is whistleblower Snowden’s preferred means of encryption.

Facebook said both you and the other person in the secret conversation have a device key that you can use to verify that the messages are end-to-end encrypted. The feature only works from one phone, tablet, or computer. Keep in mind that the person you’re messaging could still choose to share the conversation with others via a screenshot. To learn more, check out Facebook’s Help Center.

Signal

Signal

Download: Android (free) | iOS (free)

Open Whisper Systems’ Signal is probably the best-known messaging app for mobile users concerned about their privacy. It is a free app that provides messaging and voice-call services – and everything is completely end-to-end encrypted. You can send text messages to individuals and groups, place calls, share media and other attachments to your phone contacts, and more.

The best part is you don’t have to use PIN codes or generate special logins. Messages can also self-destruct after a set amount of time. And if you want to use Signal from your computer, there’s a new Chrome browser plugin for desktops.

Silent

Silent

Download: Android ($9.95/mo) | iOS ($9.95/mo)

Silent Circle is another trusted solution that provides not only secure-communications software but also hardware like the Blackphone. The company’s mobile-messaging platform, Silent Phone, offers encrypted, self-destructing messages and file transfers as well as encrypted video and voice calls. You hold the encryption key, not Silent Circle, so while your data does pass through Silent Circle’s network, it can’t read anything. Unfortunately, you must be a paid subscriber to use the app.

Telegram Messenger

Telegram Messenger

Download: Android (free) | iOS (free)

Telegram Messenger is one of the more user-friendly solutions – and it’s marketed as the “fastest”. Just link your Telegram account to your phone number, and you can use the app to send encrypted chat messages over the cloud. You can even set message to self-destruct. Everything on Telegram, including chats, groups, media, etc, is encrypted. It also includes fun photo- and video-editing tools, as well as a sticker/GIF platform so you can get creative with your chats.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp

Download: Android (free) | iOS (free)

WhatsApp slowly rolled out its end-to-end encryption offering. It first partnered with Open Whisper Systems in 2014 to add the same encryption methods used in Signal, and then in 2016, it announced that all WhatsApp communications – voice messages, photos, video messages, chats, group chats, etc – are protected by end-to-end encryption. It even provides a security-verification code that you can share with a contact to ensure that your conversation is encrypted.

Wickr Me

Wickr Me

Download: Android (free) | iOS (free)

Wickr Me is a lesser-known end-to-end encrypted-messaging app, but it works much like the others. You can send private, self-destructing messages, photos, video, and voice messages to other Wickr contacts. It also deletes metadata like geotags and message times. Plus, there’s a “Secure Shredder” feature that enables you to securely erase attached files, messages, and other data should someone try to recover anything.

Viber

Viber

Download: Android (free) | iOS (free)

Viber recently joined the end-to-end encryption crowd. It’s unique in that it sports a colour-coded system that show how protected your conversations are with a person. Grey means encrypted communications, green means encrypted communications with a trusted contact, and red means there is an problem with the authentication key. Viber can also hide chatrooms on a shared device. And everything, from text to voice messaging, is tied to your number. But if you want to call non-Viber users, you’ll have to pay up.

Bonus app

iMessage: Apple’s default messaging app is also encrypted, but encryption experts have noted iMessage uses an Apple-developed encryption that doesn’t follow all of the best practices. You can’t verify contacts’ identities, for instance, and the code isn’t open to independent review. Also, an exploit was recently found that would allow a sophisticated attacker to decrypt photos and videos sent over the service. Still, Apple couldn’t read the messages even if they were ordered to by a court order, so that’s nice.

28
Jan

NASA will use Apollo 1 hatch to honor fallen crew


Apollo 13 might be the space mission that everyone knows offhand thanks to director Ron Howard’s movie, but it wasn’t the first to experience critical failures. On January 27th, 1967 the three-man Apollo 1 crew was trapped inside its spacecraft, still on the launchpad, as smoke roiled inside the capsule and suffocated them. Now on the fatal mission’s 50th anniversary, NASA is taking the three-part hatch that trapped Roger B. Chaffee, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Edward White out of storage and putting it on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Reuters reports.

In an interview following the ceremony, Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana said that what has helped prevent further loss of life during space travel has been a work culture where people aren’t afraid to voice their questions. He said the exhibit should serve as a reminder of that.

“I always have concerns,” he said. “We have to continue to speak up and make sure that everyone is heard.”

NASA also commemorated the fallen astronauts from the Challenger and Columbia missions this week.

Source: Reuters

28
Jan

Study shows Uber created some new taxi jobs, but hurt wages


One of the taxi industry’s biggest complaints against its competition at ridesharing companies like Uber in Lyft is the idea that these newcomers have been siphoning away jobs from regularly employed taxi drivers. According to a new study of data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, that was not actually the case.

The research paper titled “Drivers of Disruption? Estimating the Uber Effect” was published by the University of Oxford and examines the effects Uber had on the local labor force when it rolled out to major American cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco between 2009 and 2015. As the MIT Technology Review reports, the numbers of self-employed drivers did shoot up by 50 percent after Uber’s arrival in each city, but the total number of regularly employed taxi drivers also had a small increase.

Despite the employment bump, the numbers don’t exactly paint a positive picture for the post-Uber taxi workforce. The data also showed that taxi drivers’ average hourly earnings dropped by around 10 percent after Uber’s arrival in a city. The self-employed drivers, on the other hand, saw their wages increase by about that much at the same time. According to MIT, the difference in hourly wages is likely because self-employed Uber drivers can make more efficient use of their time, so the per-ride pay works out to a better hourly wage.

While these statistics come directly from the federal government, Uber has been known to oversell potential earnings when trying to entice new drivers. And it’s hard to imagine any of these drivers are going to be happy once the company’s self-driving fleet becomes a reality.

Via: MIT Technology Review

Source: Uber Drivers of Disruption

28
Jan

The blazing 240Hz gaming monitor from Asus set to hit shelves in February


Why it matters to you

The Asus Swift features a remarkable 240Hz refresh rate, which will undoubtedly push competitors to up their game and speed up their monitors.

Asus’ planned ROG PG248Q will feature a native, not overclocked, refresh rate well in excess of the fastest monitors available from competitors. Now we finally have a release window. You should be able to get your hands on the fastest Swift monitor no later than the end of February.

Speaking of speed, the Swift features a native refresh rate of 240Hz. That speed doesn’t come without some sacrifice, though. The ROG PG248Q has a max resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and features a TN panel for the display. So your games are not going to be as high-res as they could be and your colors might end up a little washed out. Still, this is not a monitor for pitch-perfect color accuracy, this is a monitor for gaming at impossible speeds.

With that in mind, a 1080p panel is a pretty good choice, given you would need a monstrous machine to even come close to hitting 240 frames per second at anything higher than 1080p in most modern games.

In true Asus ROG style, this isn’t just a fast monitor, it’s a flashy monitor. The custom ROG styling will be supplemented with what Asus calls its “light signature” technology. Essentially, there’s a light in the base of the monitor, which you can customize with three included light covers, according to Hexus.

More: AMD talks frame pacing in games using multiple Radeon GPU cards.

As if 240Hz was not fast enough, the new ROG monitor will also boast support for Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, which will go even further to smooth out your gaming experience, providing lightning-fast visuals and buttery-smooth performance.

Asus teased the ROG PG248Q on its Republic of Gamers blog, claiming that the monitor isn’t just fast, it is the fastest in the world. There is no word on just how much it will cost you to have the “fastest LCD ever” but given the blisteringly fast native refresh rate and solid-looking industrial design, this monitor is not going to be a budget option.

Story originally published in October 2016. Update on 01/27/16 by Jayce Wagner: Added information regarding its release window and “light signature” technology. 

28
Jan

Amazon’s open Alexa takes on Apple’s closed HomeKit initiative


Why it matters to you

The home automation market is creating a choice between fewer but more-secure Apple HomeKit devices, and the more open Amazon Alexa.

Apple’s HomeKit serves as the foundation of its own unique approach to home automation technology. HomeKit is a set of software tools that developers and device manufacturers can use to build solutions tying together various smart devices like lighting, appliances, and home security systems.

HomeKit has been fairly successful, with a number of partners making a wide range of home automation products using Apple’s platform, and it benefits from being the first to have been built into a popular operating system in iOS 10. However, competition from competitors like Amazon’s Alexa and the brand-new Google Home has been fierce, and Apple’s usual strategy of maintaining firm control over the platform might be holding it back, as Reuters reports.

More: Apple enlists the help of home builders to preinstall its HomeKit in new homes

Whereas Amazon is relatively open in its approach to working with partners making solutions that tie into the Alexa platform, Apple requires more stringent certification requirements for companies that want to make products using HomeKit. One requirement is that only Apple-certified factories can make “special chips” that are required to integrate with it, along with particular Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networking components.

The required chips aren’t cheap, adding between 50 cents and $2 to the cost of a HomeKit-based device, with larger manufacturers getting the usual volume purchase discounts. All told, Apple’s restrictions can delay the development process and make resulting home automation products more expensive.

The net result is that while Apple’s strategy results in more tightly integrated solutions with greater privacy, security, and convenience for customers, it also means that Amazon’s Alexa has grown faster than HomeKit. Where there are currently around 100 Apple-certified products, Alexa enjoys over 250. And that delta could grow given how much easier it is to rapidly develop and roll out third-party apps and devices.

In the end, the question remains as to whether Apple’s strong smartphone presence will carry HomeKit along with it, or if Amazon will widen its lead sufficiently to become a more important standard. For customers, it’s a decision between greater ease-of-use, potentially better security, higher prices, and fewer choices in HomeKit solutions, and a wider choice of less expensive but potentially harder to use and less secure Alexa devices. Time will tell which approach will end up dominating the home automation market.