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9
Aug

‘Rez Infinite’ on PC and VR is pure digital nirvana


Rez has always been a game focused on immersing yourself in music and rhythm. Every version of the shooter, from its original launch on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, to last year’s Rez Infinite on the PS4 and PS VR, has pushed that idea of immersion forward in some way. Now, it’s finally available on PCs ($25 on Steam and the Oculus Store), and in VR on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. And, not surprisingly, I found it to be a transcendental digital experience. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the purest expression of Rez so far.

First, a brief explanation of the glory of Rez. On the surface, it looks like a mere shooter. You control a wireframe avatar floating through a neon-lit environment, all the while blasting away at a variety of enemies. But, instead of shooting in real time, you lock onto targets with a cursor and attack with waves of projectiles. Every enemy you hit produces a musical tone, and it’s not long before you’re creating a symphony of destruction atop the game’s thumping electronic soundtrack.

Whereas most shooters focus on being as fast and hectic as possible, Rez is a meditative experience. Even when the screen is full of huge enemies, its methodical pace lets you drink everything happening around your avatar. While it’s possible to get injured and “die,” it’s more focused on enveloping you in its world than punishing you.

On PC, Rez Infinite looks better than ever, with support for resolutions up to 4K. That’s something the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game also offered, but the PC port can take full advantage of powerful graphics cards with better textures, anti-aliasing (which smooths down sharp edges), and more visual effects. You can also render the game at higher resolutions than your monitor — for example, by forcing it to run at 1440p on a 1080p screen. That process, known as supersampling, makes Rez look even sharper.

While you could play Rez with a keyboard and mouse, it works best with an actual controller. Moving your character around with an analog stick is just much more fulfilling than pounding keys; and vibrating controllers also let you feel the pulse of the game in your hands. I ended up using an Xbox One Elite Controller, but any modern gamepad should work, too.

Just like with the PS4 Pro release, Rez Infinite packs in the original version of the game along with Area X, an environment that lets you move around in 360-degrees, instead of just flying down a single path. The original Rez stages looked great on PC, but Area X, which is built atop the modern Unreal gaming engine, truly shines. The visuals are far richer, with more complex models and support for bloom lighting (the extra bright effects that you see in newer games).

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Enhance Games

Rez Infinite succeeds at being the definitive version of the game as we know it. But its optional VR support takes things to another level. On an Oculus Rift, I truly grasped the sort of immersion Rez creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi originally dreamed of. Its world completely surrounds you in VR, instead of being restricted by a screen. I had the same realization when playing it on the PlayStation VR, but the Rift experience drove the concept home even further.

Thanks to the additional horsepower of my desktop rig, and the new graphics options on the PC version of the game, Rez looked practically perfect in virtual reality. Textures had more detail, and the entire experience just flowed more smoothly. The Oculus Touch controllers were also perfectly suited to the game. Their excellent motion tracking made targeting enemies a cinch — almost too easy, at times. And since I had one in each hand, instead of a gamepad, I also felt more connected to the world of Rez. Shooting might take some getting used to, though. You can target enemies with the triggers in the classic game, but in Area X, you can only use the A button on the Rift (or the trackpad on the Vive) to do so.

Since the game wasn’t initially built for VR, the developers included several camera options to easy you into the experience. “Standard” mode takes away the fast camera movements from the original game, while “dynamic” mode keeps them turned on (just avoid that one if you’ve got motion sickness). There’s also an “advanced” mode that reduces camera movements, but keeps the game balanced like it was originally.

Once again, Area X was the standout experience in VR. Even as a somewhat jaded gamer, who’s played most major releases over the past decade, being immersed in Area X’s lush environment left my jaw agape. It’s the sort of experience that completely justifies buying a VR rig. By the end of the level, I just drifted through 3D space, my pulse in sync with the music. My avatar, sitting in a lotus position, had achieved pure nirvana. And I was at peace.

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9
Aug

The FBI hacked an alleged sextortionist with a dummy video


Buster Hernandez, a 26-year-old from California, is believed to have extorted sexual images from children as young as 12. Unsealed documents relating to the FBI investigation reveal that the predator has been operating since 2014. It’s believed that Hernandez, under the alias Brian Kil, used threats of violence and domestic terrorism to coerce children into sending him sexual images.

The story begins at the tail end of 2015 after the FBI was contacted by the Brownsburg police department. Hernandez was extorting sexual images from a child in Indiana, images that he subsequently posted on the public Brian Kil Facebook page. Investigators attempted to track down the user behind the account, only to find he used Tor to mask his IP.

Investigators were already aware of Kil, however, in connection with another of his victims, a minor living in Michigan. Similarly, Hernandez used threats of violence to obtain images of the girl that were subsequently classified as child pornography. But in that case, the victim was required to use a Dropbox account and on June 9th of this year, a judge allowed the bureau to use the account against Hernandez.

Officials inserted some code into a (non-pornographic) video that was sent from the Michigan victim’s computer to Hernandez. When the video was viewed, the code inside contacted an FBI server with its real IP address. Agents subsequently wiretapped Hernandez’s computer and installed a camera to watch the property where he lived with his girlfriend.

In this case, the FBI was fortunate to take advantage of Hernandez’s moderate lack of computer literacy, and we must be grateful for that. But it also serves as a warning to us all that we need to be vigilant against such acts.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: DocumentCloud

9
Aug

‘Myst’ studio’s crowdfunded ‘Obduction’ hits PS4 August 29th


If you’re a die-hard Myst fan, you’ve probably at least heard of Obduction, the new game from Cyan. You may have even supported its Kickstarter. Today, CEO Rand Miller took to the PlayStation blog to announce that the game will be available for the PS4 on August 29th; it will include a PS VR update, though that may not be available at launch time. You can preorder it now.

Obduction is much like the worlds of Myst and Riven. It centers on solving puzzles, and features a gorgeous, immersive and intricately crafted world. You are essentially kidnapped from Earth and taken to an alien world called Hunrath, which features a strange mix of Earth tech from different periods combined with unrecognizable pieces. There’s also a message that this has happened to people before; you’re not alone on this world.

The developers of Obduction are intent on making it one of the most extensive VR games available. You can currently purchase it for Oculus Rift, as well as the HTC Vive and Touch. It’s also available on PC and Mac. The company promises that, while this is the first VR game from Cyan, it certainly won’t be the last.

Source: PlayStation Blog

9
Aug

Amazon invests in Andy Rubin’s Essential phone project


Amazon is dipping more digits into the hardware market. Along with Chinese powerhouse Tencent, the shopping juggernaut has announced an investment into Andy Rubin’s Essential Products Inc. via the Alexa Fund, the Wall Street Journal reports. Other details are scant, like how much either of those contributed to the $300 million funding. But we do know that while the PH-1 handset is exclusive to Sprint here in the US, you’ll be able to buy one at Amazon or Best Buy at launch.

Now all we need is a release date. That might be coming in a few weeks according to Essential president Niccolo De Masi. Nothing like waiting until you have to fight for attention amongst a new iPhone or Galaxy Note, is there?

Source: Wall Street Journal

9
Aug

EFF says border control needs a warrant to search your tech


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has submitted a court filing arguing that federal agents at international airports should obtain a warrant before snooping through passenger laptops, phones and other digital devices. Warrantless border searches are currently permissible under an exception to the Fourth Amendment, but as EFF notes, the number of these searches has more than doubled since President Trump moved into the White House.

In a new court filing, EFF argues that since digital devices hold so much highly personal information, “agents should be required to show they have probable cause to believe that the device contains evidence of a violation of the immigration or customs laws”, and even then border agents should only be able to examine digital contents after a judge has signed off on a warrant.

The filing also sought to clarify search guidance issued by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency in July, which restricted border searches to locally-stored data. As EFF points out, distinguishing between local data and cloud-based data isn’t necessarily straightforward, and cloud data can “appear as a seamless part of the digital device when presented at the border”.

EFF filed its brief with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in US v. Molina-Isidoro, a case that saw Maria Isabel Molina-Isidoro’s cell phone manually searched at the border and the data used to support a prosecution for attempted drugs smuggling.

“Our cell phones and laptops provide access to an unprecedented amount of detailed, private information, often going back many months or years, from emails to our co-workers to photos of our loved ones and lists of our closest contacts,” said EFF staff attorney Sophia Cope. “This is light years beyond the minimal information generally contained in other kinds of personal items we might carry in our suitcases. It’s time for courts and the government to acknowledge that examining the contents of a digital device is highly intrusive, and Fourth Amendment protections should be strong, even at the border.”

Via: TechCruch

Source: EFF

9
Aug

BMW’s i3 is a long-range concept car you can actually buy


Electric cars are the future. Sadly, the future mostly resembles the past when it comes to car designs. Sure, early cars like the Honda Insight and the GM EV1 at least tried to look sleek — even if it was for the benefit of aerodynamics. There is one company that’s decided to release EV vehicles that look like the future though. Or at least TRON’s version of it: BMW.

The BMW i8 and i3, while on opposite ends of the driving spectrum (a supercar and urban commuter), both look like they belong in a magnificent world of tomorrow; one with greener skies and where everything glows blue and white. Getting behind the wheel of the latest version of the i3 with Range Extender (yeah, that’s the actual name) might have felt like sitting in a concept car at an auto show, but it’s a car you can actually buy.

The bubble-like vehicle is more than just a designer’s whimsy brought to the road. It’s a solid, town-friendly EV that’s not quite pure electric and not quite hybrid. The $48,300 i3 with Range Extender sports a 33 kWh battery that delivers a 90-mile range. It also has a tiny scooter engine in the back of the car that kicks in once that battery is nearly dead. But instead of powering the wheels, like other hybrids, it keeps the battery pack from becoming fully depleted, and that combination can keep the car on the road for up to 205 miles total.

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This means you get the same EV torque driving experience you’ve come to expect from an electric drivetrain and after you run down the battery you can hear that scooter engine (it’s an actual scooter engine from the C600) from the trunk. It’s faint and it sort of blends into background of road noise after a few minutes. The effect on how you plan your drive could be substantial. For example, if you didn’t charge the car the night before and need to drive beyond the range of the battery, you can, knowing a simple trip to the gas station (to fill the Range Extender tank) will get you out of any sort of jam.

The i3’s Range Extender is definitely not made for any sort of extended road trip, though, thanks to its teeny-tiny 2.4-gallon gas tank. You should get ready to stop every 60 miles for a refuel if you’re doing highway driving. But that’s not what the i3 is built for. It’s made to drive around town with occasional trips outside your local area. Had BMW put a 5-gallon gas tank on the Range Extender, that would have doubled the extra miles from the generator, which would have been nice.

If you’re still keen on reducing any use of fuel by the car, the i3 comes with DC fast-charging as standard. As long as you can find one of those stations in your local area, you can go from zero to 80 percent in about 45 minutes. Regular Level 2 charging will fill the car with electrons from zero to 100 percent in about four-and-a-half hours.

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The i3 covers pretty much all your bases when it comes to keeping it on the road. That includes aggressive regenerative braking that can make initial experiences behind the wheel feel a little odd. The first time I drove the car in Eco Pro mode, I was pulling out of a parking space between two cars on the street — I gingerly depressed the accelerator, and nothing happened. I assumed I had forgotten to turn the car on, or maybe I accidentally turned it off.

The sometimes unnerving silence of an electric can lead to a few moments like that. I also checked the parking brake. Turns out, I just wasn’t pushing hard enough on the accelerator, and when I did get it moving, it felt like I was driving through molasses.

Once you get on the open road and punch it, the 184 foot pounds of torque rears its head. It’s not the quickest thing on the road, with a zero to 60 of eight seconds, but off the line at stop lights, it’s got enough gumption to get ahead of other drivers if they’re not in the mood to race.

Once you get used to the regenerative braking bringing the car to a full stop on flat surfaces when you take your foot off the accelerator, you realize that driving only using one pedal is kinda cool. More important, thanks to all the energy reclaimed by the car slowing itself down, it takes a while to deplete the battery during regular city driving. Normally after a few trips to work and driving around on San Francisco’s congested streets, I’m looking for a charging station. The i3 just kept going though. I actually had to venture across the bay and hit the highways to finally hear that tiny generator fire up.

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It’s on those freeway jaunts, though, that you’re reminded that the car is really at home zipping around on surface streets; it’s not so much fun at speeds above 50 miles an hour. The car’s small yet tall shape means that cross winds and the turbulence of passing trucks make driving an … experience. The tight steering and suspension also lose their charm once you get out on the open road.

It’s the curse of the small car. Still, at the premium price of the i3, I feel like that steering should be tighter in that type of environment.

That’s the biggest complaint about the i3 — if you’re a fan of the design — the price. Yes, it’s a BMW and you should expect to pay a premium. But it’s in a market where the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 have more range and cost less.

2017 BMW i3

Those two cars will disappear in the sea of metal flowing down the roads though the i3 sticks out. Its polarizing design ends up being the topic of conversations more than its range or its cost. With an exterior from TRON and an interior ripped from a Pottery Barn catalog, the i3 can’t be ignored, and it’ll be a sad day when it disappears once all of the regular BMW’s have EV counterparts.

The BMW i3 with Range Extender is cool-looking to some and hideous to others. It’s what happens when the concept car you see at the unveiling actually ends up in showrooms. And, love it or hate it, the car world would be a better place if more automakers took a chance on what they were bringing to the future of driving. Just because you want to drive green doesn’t mean you want to drive the design equivalent of beige.

9
Aug

Anker’s Genie is a cheaper Echo Dot


As part of its growing smart home tech line of products called Eufy, Anker is adding its version of the Echo Dot. It’s a little bit bigger than the Dot with some slightly different specs here and there, but overall very comparable to Amazon’s version. And the Eufy Genie comes a bit cheaper at just $35 compared to the Dot’s $50 price tag.

Along with a lower price, Anker is touting better sound with a 2W speaker, but you can also use your own sound setup by plugging it into the Genie’s aux port. And while the Dot has seven microphones built in, the Genie has just two, which could mean that it won’t pick up your voice as well as the Dot. However, ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has been testing the Genie and reports that the microphone pick up is actually pretty good. Aside from those differences, the two models are largely the same. With the Genie, you’ll still get access to Alexa’s thousands of skills and you’ll be able to use the Genie to control other smart products in your home. The Genie doesn’t have Bluetooth pairing like the Dot does, but Anker says an upcoming $40 version of the Genie will have that capability.

Anker is also planning on launching a handful of other smart Eufy gadgets soon including light bulbs, plugs, switches and another vacuum. The Eufy Genie will be available for purchase on Amazon starting August 16th.

Source: CNET, TechCrunch

9
Aug

One of Apple’s display suppliers is in dire financial trouble


Japan Display’s reluctance to embrace OLED manufacturing has cost it dearly. The firm took a net loss of ¥31.5 billion ($287,185,500) from April to June. “We have decided to make a strategic change as we would have no future in the smartphone business without OLED,” CEO Nobuhiro Higasgiiriki (above) said. The iPhone screen supplier has shed 30 percent of its employees (3,700 people according to Phys.org) and is reorganizing for what it says is the last time.

“We find ourselves in a very regrettable situation,” Higasgiiriki said. “Our biggest task is to build a management system that generates profits by keeping in mind that this is our last chance to restructure.” Its current OLED prototype won’t go into full production until 2019 — a year later than previous estimates.

According to Reuters’ sources, the display supergroup was hoping to raise 100 million yen ($911,400) to pay for the restructuring. The company started in 2012 as a joint venture between Hitachi, Sony and Toshiba, with a focus on making small to mid-sized LCD screens.

Japan’s Innovation Network Corp helped fund the venture back then, and could come to its rescue once again with a ¥75 billion ($683,147,250) investment, Reuters reports. That should cover the restructuring costs. But, if the rumors are true, Apple needs OLED screens now, not in two year’s time.

Source: Phys.org, Reuters

9
Aug

Facebook uses AI to detect fake ads


Facebook has been making efforts to be more transparent about its efforts to moderate posts and combat the spread of fake news and other spam, especially after the social network’s effects on the recent election in the US. Today, the organization disclosed how it is using AI to help combat the issue of “cloaking” in Facebook News Feeds.

When you click on a post or an ad in your News Feed, the target site should match what the ad is about — it’s pretty straightforward. But sometimes, it doesn’t. And in fact, the target site can even violate Facebook advertising policies and/or community guidelines. This is where cloaking comes in; the ads and posts are able to get around Facebook’s review processes because they send Facebook’s employees and contractors to different sites than users clicking in their News Feed.

Facebook has been putting more resources into its detection strategies, using a combination of AI and human review, to find and remove cloaked posts and ads. Additionally, they’ve amended their policies to include strong language that forbids cloaking. Any advertisers or Facebook Pages that are found to use this practice will be banned from the social network. It’s a small step in combatting spam, but certainly a welcome one.

Source: Facebook

9
Aug

Edible robot surgeons will cure you from the inside out


Back in 1985, the best robotic surgeon we had was the PUMA 560, a manipulator arm just barely more advanced than Rocky Balboa’s robo-butler. Just barely. The PUMA was nevertheless revolutionary. It was the very first mechanical operator, progenitor to steady-handed robo-surgeons like of the DaVinci system. But in the near future, robots will no longer be cutting into us — from the outside, at least.

Even as the the current generation of robotic surgeons continues to shrink, with miniscule pincers and malleable toolsets capable of curling their way through our innards, the medical community is working to develop robotic surgical devices capable of operating autonomously, or at least remotely. This is due, in part, to expected shortages in qualified doctors, nurses and medical technicians over the next decade or so.

“By 2030, we estimate we’re going to need another 40 million health workers and we may be 15 to 18 million health workers short,” Professor David Watters, head of surgery at Barwon Health, told Australia’s ABC.net last May. “The fact that we can get skilled procedures remotely to a patient will be of tremendous advantage to rural and remote communities and also low-income countries and low-middle-income countries that are struggling to train enough health workers to service their populations.”

Luckily, robots like the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR), developed by a team at Johns Hopkins University, are already matching and exceeding the capabilities of their human counterparts. The STAR recently demonstrated its superior stitching abilities in both ex vitro operations and on live (albeit porcine) patients. But in the future, surgeons may not need to worry about closing up entry wounds at all — mostly because they’ll already be inside us when they get to work.

Ingestible cameras, such as the PillCam from Given Imaging, have been around for more than a decade already. In fact, the technology was approved for use in some 80 countries before it earned FDA acceptance in 2014. These cameras send a series of high-speed images to doctors during their roughly 8-hour journey through the digestive system. What’s more, the PillCam can be guided — its course even halted and reversed — via an external magnet so that doctors can linger and better inspect anything they find.

But cameras are only the start. Last May, MIT CSAIL debuted a similar device except, instead of a camera, the robot carries a small magnet. Designed to be ingested orally, the device is constructed from folded, dried pig intestine. After the pill casing dissolves in the stomach’s acids, the robot unfurls itself and rattles around the gut, hopefully attracting and clinging to any loose batteries or other miscellaneous magnetic items that you may have swallowed. Given that Americans alone manage to eat upwards of 3,300 button batteries each year, these devices are sure to become a staple (or at least catch a few) at doctors offices in the near future.

A similar device from Rani Therapeutics doesn’t pick items up, but rather drops them off. See, proteins and other large proteins are routinely destroyed by the stomach’s acids. That’s why drugs like insulin have to be administered intravenously rather than orally. The robotic pill from Rani is sheathed in an inert polymer and equipped with a carbohydrate-based “needle.” The pill is designed to protect its payload from stomach enzymes until it reaches the intestinal tract where it can be delivered. Unfortunately, the pill has been awaiting human trials since at least 2014, and doesn’t appear to be entering them any time soon.

If you are in need an ingestible endoscope — one capable of punching out a small portion of your stomach lining for biopsies — researchers at the physical intelligence department at Max Planck Institute in Germany have you covered. Like the CSAIL origami-bot, this too contains a small magnet which enables doctors to control it from outside the body. However, unlike MIT’s device, this one is built to withstand the rigors of the human body’s interior and deliver its potentially cancerous cargo completely unscathed after it passes through the gut. Officially known as the magnetically actuated soft capsule endoscope for fine-needle aspiration biopsy (B-MASCE), this device is currently undergoing in vitro trials.

The quest for edible robots is an international one. Researchers from Switzerland’s EPFL are currently working on a soft robot that doesn’t need to be guided by external magnets or mechanizations. Instead, this gelatinous device relies on liquids and air that react to an onboard supply of chemicals to activate its inchworm-like movements. The device is still in early development so don’t expect it to be crawling through your digestive tract any time soon.

And speaking of crawling, the Rentschler Research Group has created a robot capable of traversing your colon. But rather than waste a workday travelling through the length of your intestines, this robot takes a more direct approach. Yes, through your butt. Just as with the EPFL’s creation, this device scrunches its way through your rectum like a worm in search of cancer.

But for as promising as these futuristic medical devices appear, they are almost unanimously unready for the trip through your innerspace. Even as other fields in robotics move towards full autonomy, medical devices have been slow to incorporate that feature. As Wired points out, doctors tend to be reluctant about handing over control to machines. So until these robots can prove that they can abide by the Hippocratic oath, don’t expect to see them worming their way through you any time soon.

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