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Microsoft already has a fix for that severe WiFi security exploit

The “Krack Attack” WiFi encryption security flaw is more than a little frightening, but you should already be relatively safe if you’re using a recent Windows PC. Microsoft has released a patch that fixes the vulnerability on all supported versions of Windows (effectively, 8 or later). Windows isn’t as susceptible to the flaw as Linux-based platforms like Android, which don’t demand a unique encryption key, but this fix may have a significant impact simply through the sheer ubiquity of Windows in the computing world.

To recap: the exploit revolves around cloning a WPA2-encrypted WiFi network, impersonating its MAC address and changing the WiFi channel. Intruders can force your device to connect to this bogus network instead of the legitimate one, making it easier for them to snoop on your data traffic or perpetrate attacks that require a local network. Would-be hackers have to get within physical distance of a target network for this to succeed, but that’s potentially a huge problem for public networks.

As for other platforms? Apple hasn’t detailed a fix yet, but Google is promising that Android phones with a November 6th security update will be protected against Krack Attack. The Wi-Fi Alliance is also requiring that all of its partners (including Apple and others) check for the exploit and patch if necessary. The issue is already in hand, then. The main concern is whether or not updates arrive in a timely manner — not every Android vendor delivers security updates in a timely fashion, so you may end up waiting past November 6th to lock down your device.

Source: The Verge, Rachid Finge (Twitter), Wi-Fi Alliance


Can an iPad Pro replace your PC?

In 2016, Apple believed its professional-grade tablet, the iPad Pro, was ready for the big time. Phil Schiller even described the machine as “the ultimate PC replacement” when describing the product onstage. The company’s own advertisements claimed that the device could do everything a desktop or laptop could do. But that wasn’t really true until the launch of iOS 11, when the company really let the iPad off the leash.

One of the headline features is that iOS 11 enabled truer multitasking than was available before. In fact, most of the commentary about the new operating system is about features, like the dock, that are at the heart of macOS. When a tablet gets the famous Mac dock, you know it’s time to consider it as a genuine PC replacement. Which is why I’ve spent a couple of days working (almost) exclusively from one in order to see if I’d be tempted to switch.

I’m a particularly good candidate for the experiment, since I’m such a slavish desktop aficionado that I even resent using a laptop. Unless it’s got dual displays, keyboard and mouse, not to mention the ability to run 10 programs at a time, I’m not happy.

In the service of the experiment, I borrowed the latest 10.5-inch iPad Pro from Apple, complete with a Smart Keyboard and Pencil. I also begged a friend to let me play with his 12.9-inch iPad Pro, similarly with a Smart Keyboard, to compare and contrast. My challenge was to try and do my job at Engadget using just the smaller iPad to write, edit and upload images.

The first thing you notice about working from an iPad is just how much more productive it makes you, because the iPad is the enemy of distraction. On my desktop, I normally work with two Chrome windows, iTunes and a couple of Pages documents on my primary display. The second monitor is dedicated to Slack, ensuring that I’m always on hand to respond to messages.

On the iPad, it’s far harder to succumb to the ravages of multiple-window syndrome. In fact, for all of Apple’s trumpeting about the iPad’s improved multitasking, the device is built to do one thing at a time. Part of it is a result of the limitations of the iPad itself: with only 10.5 or 12.9 inches of real estate to play with, you always need to be conscious about how much screen you’re using.

I spent most of my working days with Pages occupying about five-fifths of the display, with either a web browser or Slack on the right. Not that I really needed to, because iOS also has enabled fast switching, either by control-tabbing around your open apps or with the dock. The dock, obviously, was cribbed from macOS, and it’s one of the best tweaks available here.

When I work from a touchscreen Windows laptop, I’m always leery about not having a mouse alongside, because there’s that disconnect when you need to go from keyboard to display. Not only is it a real break with what you’re doing, but there’s the fact that your screen can get pretty greasy, pretty quickly.

Apple has, thankfully, solved the first half of that equation, because iOS’ gestures are more natural and intuitive. Pull your fingers in to close an app, swipe left or right to switch apps, tap the screen to highlight something. It makes a lot more sense, so you experience less of that break in your mind between using a keyboard and touching a screen. You still need a cloth at hand, unfortunately. When I went back to using a desktop, I found that I missed that sense of connection with the display that allowed me to quickly brush my finger against the screen to move the cursor.

Then there’s the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard, which filled me with dread when I thought I had to deal with it for a week-plus. It does, after all, look like the sort of rubber, industrial keyboard I thought I left behind when I stopped working in factories. At first blush, it looks stiff, uncomfortable, with little to no travel — a retrograde step toward the days of the ZX Spectrum.

I needed not have worried, since the Smart Keyboard has plenty of travel and is almost as comfortable as a laptop keyboard. Sure, it’s never going to match up to the sort of professional-grade mechanical keyboards I use on the desktop, or even the Apple-bundled chiclet keyboard. But it’s comfortable enough to use for long periods, and I’d happily use it as my primary input mechanism. Although I’d prefer the 12.9-inch version to its smaller sibling, because I’m a big guy with very big hands.

Oh, one thing: The angle of the iPad on its stand and my very large fingers mean that it’s far too easy to unintentionally brush the screen. It’s not a big issue, and I was able to learn to avoid it over time, but having keyboard controls at the bottom of the screen can sometimes be problematic.

I also want to talk about the Pencil, which I didn’t have much cause to use, since I’m not a very talented illustrator. However, I found out that, on top of being used for artistic purposes, the (don’t call it a) stylus pulls double duty as a mouse pointer.

For me — and I’d assume a large proportion of the people who work at Engadget — replacing our computers with iPads would be out of the question. Our CMS, the platform on which this site hangs, was designed more than a decade ago to work with keyboards and mice. Using it on phones and tablets, with their finger- and gesture-based interaction metaphors, is possible, but hellish. Not to mention that plenty of the apps that we need to work aren’t really designed to be used on tablets.

And yet, once I’d settled into a groove, I found it reasonably easy to do the bulk of my work on the iPad without interruption. The Apple Pencil is smart enough to let me use it in place of my finger in our CMS, and you can even shoot and edit photos on the device. Using Lightroom, it’s possible to shoot RAW images from the iPad’s 12-megapixel camera. I was able to produce some excellent imagery that, unless you’re looking hard, you’d assume came from a dedicated camera.

Thankfully, iOS 11’s Files app also means that I can actually just push the edited files into Google Drive and back again without any fuss.


Daniel Cooper

There are some issues that are specific to me, like the fact that I can’t yet find a batch resizing and watermarking app that suits our system. That’s not an issue that’s going to affect the majority of folks who will use the device. The muscle memory for pretty much everything else still works, and, after a few days, I didn’t even notice that I wasn’t using a desktop — except for the fact that you need to pull into Control Center to change music tracks, which is a total productivity killer.

One big trade-off between a personal computer and the iPad Pro is that the latter can’t really be the center of your digital universe. An iPad can’t host the sum of your iTunes media library, and you can’t sync devices with it. If you’re a fully paid-up member of the iCloud ecosystem, then that’s less of an issue. But if you’re still attached to physical media, you’re not going to be able to make that split so easily.

Another criticism, and one that’s often lobbed toward Apple, is that the iPhone and iPad are “closed” devices, hampering you from doing some of the things you would do on a desktop. Now, some of those things may not be on the right side of legality, but it may be something that you do anyway. Let’s imagine, for instance, that you enjoy watching controversial condiment-based cartoon Rick and Morty.

Here in the UK, Rick and Morty is available to view on Netflix seven days after its initial US broadcast. That’s easy to circumvent, however, since YouTube (and every other video hosting site on the internet) has streams of it available minutes after it airs. Now, on a desktop or laptop, you could simply visit one of the thousands of illegal streams on YouTube or elsewhere, save it to your hard drive and watch it at your leisure later. Or perhaps save it to a USB stick and then transfer it to a media player downstairs for family viewing.

You’ll get no prizes for guessing that such a job is difficult and very fiddly to implement on an iPad without plenty of help. Because you can’t simply save the file that’s being played in Safari, you need to use some creative workarounds. A service such as KeepVid, for instance, will paste the purloined files to your Dropbox account, from which you can then move them on. For all of Apple’s claims that iOS 11 will free your iPad from the tyranny of sandboxing, there’s still plenty of incentive for you to keep to your lane.

iPads, for all of their compactness, aren’t always the ideal machine for road warriors. On field trips, I use my MacBook Air’s two USB ports to charge all of my digital devices, from my iPhone and headphones to my Kindle. That way, all I need to do is carry the charging cables, rather than the wall plugs, and I can charge up to three devices at a time.

An iPad, on the other hand, can share its battery only with the Pencil, and so is useless for power sharing. Whatever bag weight you’ve saved by not toting around a hefty laptop and its power adapter, you’ll make back by bringing USB plugs for all of your various devices.

On the upside, the iPad Pro occupies a lot less horizontal space than a laptop, making it better-suited for working on a train or airplane. You’ll never entirely eliminate the stresses of crunching elbows with your neighbor when typing, but it does help to mitigate the problem. And there are plenty of scenarios when the iPad’s speed enables you to get short bursts of work done much faster.

I often think that iOS will always be relatively hampered because macOS exists. The former is a sleek, stripped-down race car designed for speed and getting people to their destination in record time. The latter, however, is a pickup truck, useful and slow and versatile in all the ways its sibling is not.

It’s with that in mind that you should approach the notion of whether you could live your life with the iPad Pro as your primary — nay, only — machine. For the electronic minimalist in us all, the device can do plenty of the usual things you’d use a desktop for. But you’ll always find that you can very easily butt up against the limits of what the iPad, and iOS 11, can do.

On the plus side, I love how focused the iPad Pro made me, and how comfortable the keyboard is to use. The screen, packing 120Hz ProMotion and True Tone display technology, is beautiful, and I actually really enjoyed spending time with it to work and read. Not to mention that, because it’s so fast, light and portable, it’s far easier to work with in places other than your office. You can prop it up beside you at breakfast or on the couch late at night, and it’s much easier to use where space is at a premium than a laptop.

What you’re giving up, however, is that sense of control and the ability to do what you want to do, how you want to do it. Because Apple has a very ingrained sense of how computing is done, and its devices are built to enforce that sense at all times. If you feel that you can cope with the rigidity, then you will probably have no qualms about making the switch.

It’s weird, because on one hand, I feel like I could do 90 percent of my job with an iPad Pro and eliminate so much stuff from my office overnight. But that in doing so, I’d have to always have a laptop on standby for when I needed to do things that Apple doesn’t want you to do. The biggest drawback to recommending one, right now, is that the iPad Pro is this useful only because of its Smart Keyboard, and the price for the two together is $968 for the base model 12.9-incher. This is an awful lot of money to spend on a very beautiful device that can’t save a video straight from Safari or efficiently batch-resize camera images suitable for publishing.

Can an iPad Pro replace a personal computer? No, and it’s likely that it won’t be able to for some time. But do you really need a personal computer for the majority of the things you do each day?


What is Intel Coffee Lake?

Intel’s 8th-generation “Coffee Lake” CPUs are now on the market. These chips come with a modest bump in CPU frequency, but the big news is that Intel is finally adding 6-core processors to its mainstream i7 and i5 lines. More cores means these chips will perform better at tasks that benefit from multithreading, such as content creation and data processing, and the increase in frequency and cores will give a boost to gaming frame rates.

Intel used to release chips on a “tick-tock” cycle that saw every release alternate either a new design, or a new manufacturing process – called a “node.” A new process node, like moving from 45nm to 22nm, means smaller transistors and a faster or more power-efficient chip. But manufacturing challenges made tick-tock falter a few years ago, and now new releases are much harder to predict. “Coffee Lake” is the fourth chip Intel has released at 14nm, and the third based on the “Skylake” design from 2015. New designs and nodes are coming, but we’ll probably have to wait until they arrive in 2018 to see a big jump in performance.


Supreme Court will hear challenge to Microsoft’s data privacy case

Microsoft may have won its fight to protect overseas data from American search warrants, but it can’t rest easy. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Department of Justice’s petition to review the case, virtually guaranteeing that the case will set the basis for how US law enforcement can access data abroad. We don’t have a court date as of this writing, but the arguments on both sides are already well-established.

A New York district court and the DOJ contend that companies, not users, own data stored abroad — in this case, email held in an Irish data center. As such, any warrant targeting an American company would be considered a domestic request and wouldn’t have to face extra scrutiny.

Both Microsoft and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which ruled in favor of Microsoft last year) see it very differently. They don’t believe that laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act were intended to reach beyond American borders, and that this creates conflicts with privacy laws in Europe and other corners of the world. Microsoft also sees this as a Pandora’s box. If you don’t own your data, then that theoretically means you lose your right to privacy the moment you step online. And if the US can use a warrant to take any data so long as it’s held by an American company, doesn’t that invite foreign governments to do the same thing?

Whether that’s a valid concern or irrational fear, Microsoft is upbeat about the Supreme Court challenge. Even if it loses, it knows that there are bills in progress (such as the Senate’s International Communications Privacy Act) that could restrict access to overseas data. The DOJ may get what it wants and still have to limit the scope of law enforcement’s data collection.

Source: Microsoft, SCOTUSblog


Telegram fined after refusing to provide user data to Russia

Back in June, we reported on the struggles that messaging app Telegram was having with the Russian government. Russia asked Telegram to hand over confidential user data because it claimed terrorists have been using the service to plan attacks. Now, the latest update in their saga is here. The Meshchansky Court of Moscow fined Telegram 800,000 rubles (the equivalent of about $14,000) for failure to provide the Russian government with decryption keys to user messages.

It’s not an outright ban, which is what Russia threatened Telegram with, and the size of the fine implies that Russia’s doing this for show. Telegram founder Pavel Durov posted about the decision on the social networking site VK (which he also founded). He claims that the demands of the FSB, Russia’s state security organization, are unconstitutional. What’s more, they are not feasible from a technological standpoint. After all, providing backdoor access to an app isn’t exactly a simple endeavor.

Durov is currently working on appealing the decision. His VK post asks any lawyers interested in this case to contact him; they will choose from the candidates in the next few days. It’s not a large fine, to be sure, so Telegram could just pay it, but it’s clear that Durov wants to take a stand on the issue of user privacy.


Source: VK


Origin’s NT-15 Quadro is a slim laptop with pro video-editing power

I’m obsessed with lightweight, discrete graphics laptops, especially models that excel at video editing and 3D. So when I first saw Origin’s 4.3-pound NT-15 Quadro, equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and NVIDIA professional-level Quadro P4000 Max-Q graphics, I had to try it. And not just for the specs and charts, but to see what it’s like in everyday use. The quick verdict? It’s not perfect — battery life and the touchpad aren’t great, and it’s pricey — but as a video production machine that you can tote around, it won me over.

The NT-15 Quadro is Origin’s first wave of laptops that use NVIDIA’s Max-Q graphics, which bring nearly the same power as regular laptop chips but with significant weight and power savings. On top of Max-Q versions of the GeForce GTX 1080 (used in the ASUS ROG Zephyrus), GTX 1070 and other gaming chips, NVIDIA also offers professional, Quadro graphics cards: the P3000, P4000 and P5000 Max-Q.

You pay for that. The desktop version of the 8GB Quadro P4000 costs around $800, about double the price of the GTX 1070. However, NVIDIA has lowered prices a bit for Quadro products over the past few years — the Quadro K4000 was about $1,200, for instance. That’s possibly because video editors and others are switching to nonprofessional GeForce cards, which generally work just fine for graphics chores.

With the P4000 you’re getting a bit less power than you would with the GeForce GTX 1070, but with the added benefit of tuned, certified graphics drivers with more precision for demanding apps like 3DS Max, Maya and Adobe After Effects. It also gets you a longer warranty, better support for certain applications and less chance of a graphics glitch. That’s just an annoyance in a game, but it can ruin a video render for a film or TV show.

The only display available at the moment for the NT-15 is a 15.6-inch 1080p IPS model with no touch capability. That lack of touch might be a problem for artists who use a stylus, but for video editing, compositing and 3D animation, I didn’t miss it.

Other specs and features are top-notch. The NT-15 Quadro comes with 32GB of RAM, on top of the 8GB on the NVIDIA P4000, so suffice to say that memory isn’t an issue. Similarly, it has a 512GB M.2 SSD, which I tested at 2.7 GB/s, and a 2TB hard disk, so you won’t suffer from a lack of speedy storage. It has most of the ports you could want, including three USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.1 Type C, a mini-Display port, an SD(XC/HC) card reader, headphone and microphone ports, an HDMI 2.0 port and, yep, a good old RJ45 Ethernet port. WiFi is via Intel’s Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 and Bluetooth 4.2 combo, and the touchpad has a built-in fingerprint reader.

The Origin NT-15 Quadro’s industrial design is, well, nondescript. It’s an all-aluminum, basic black laptop that doesn’t particularly stand out, unless you choose to customize it with laser-etched flames or a metallic paint job. Ergonomically, it’s excellent, with the keyboard and trackpad in the right spot (centered below the keyboard, unlike the one on the ASUS ROG Zephyrus) and a handy numeric keypad at right.


It bears noting that the Origin NT-15 Quadro and MSI WS63VR look identical, right down to the ports, power switch and side vent holes, so it appears that they’re made by the same company.

Professionals want all these ports, RAM and storage, and the fact that Origin managed to squeeze them into a 4.3-pound laptop is quite a feat. At the same time, I took the laptop with me to Valencia, Spain, for an Audi A8 test drive, and I never felt overburdened by it in terms of weight. I wouldn’t have minded if they had added a few ounces to fix a few details, though.

Like the touchpad: It’s not very good, unfortunately. The clicking pad itself is too stiff — not nearly as smooth as on Dell’s and Microsoft’s latest models, and a far cry from Apple’s exemplary MacBook touchpads. To use it with any speed, I was forced to enable tapping, which often results in unwanted actions if you brush the touchpad by accident.

The screen is good for what it is, with accurate colors bolstered by Origin’s (optional, no-brainer) $29 professional calibration service. Thanks to Microsoft’s Surface Book and recent models from Dell and others, however, most graphics artists expect a touchscreen with something beyond 1080p resolution — 1440p would have been ideal, for me.

Given the battery life, though, perhaps it’s good that Origin stuck with a lower-resolution screen. The company claims up to 240 minutes (four hours) of battery life, which is awful compared with the promised times of the MacBook Pro (10 hours) and Microsoft Surface Book (12 hours), even taking the more powerful Quadro discrete graphics into account.

But in real-world usage, I was lucky to get that doing my normal Engadget work (using a CMS, the web and occasionally Photoshop). Running Premiere Pro CC or After Effects, you’d be doing well to get a couple of hours, so you’d better have a wall outlet handy when covering events, etc. I managed to get three hours and 29 minutes playing a 1080p movie (The Matrix, of course).

The screen, touchpad and battery are the negative points of the Origin NT-15, so now let’s focus on the good ones. First off, it’s ridiculously powerful for its size. Even though it packs speed-throttled Max-Q graphics (to prevent overheating), it managed an 8800 PassMark graphics score in my tests, below that of the Max-Q GeForce 1080 card, but well above the 1070 model. On Cinebench’s OpenGL tests, it managed an equally impressive 105 fps score.

The quad-core i7-7700HQ chip, used in a lot of high-performance laptops, also performs as well as you’d expect. It scored a 720 on Cinebench’s R15 tests, not far below the Xeon-equipped HP ZBook 15 G4-Y4E80AV.

Translated into the real world, editing on Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 at 1080p was extremely snappy, with the warp stabilizer and other graphics-dependent filters especially fast, and multiple layers of video, color correction and graphics playing in real time. I was able to export a three-minute, 15-second H.264 1080p video file from Adobe Premiere in one minute and 47 seconds, as compared with two minutes, 55 seconds on a three-year-old Quadro M1100–equipped Dell M3800.

The same applies to 3DS Max. Viewport performance is particularly zippy, thanks to the NVIDIA P4000, which supports both NVIDIA Mental Ray final rendering and NVIDIA ActiveShade preview rendering. The latter is particularly important for 3D artists who need to test materials, lighting and so on. (For what it’s worth, I played Crysis 3 on the machine at 4K on an external monitor at 30+ fps with most settings maxed.)

The screen is readable outside, as long as you’re not in the sun.

The Ethernet port provided the entire 1Gbps upload and download speeds supported by my internet provider, while the WiFi maxed out at 250Mbps — a limitation of the router, not the Intel WiFi model.

During the most taxing chores, like video exports and 3D rendering, the NT-15’s fan would crank up, but noise levels were always tolerable, thanks to the Max-Q tech. CPU temperatures hit 90 degrees Celsius on certain 3DS Max renders (194 F), which is below Intel’s 100-degree (212 F) tolerance but still pretty darn hot. On your lap when you’re watching movies, it also gets pretty warm, but not scorchingly so.

In sum, Origin’s NT-15 is a strong pro graphics performer, though the price, battery life and touchpad are drawbacks. However, if you’re the right kind of user — someone who needs to do video editing and graphics in lots of different places and usually has access to AC power — it’s going to provide the power you need without breaking your back on the way.

More important, the laptop is one of the first to pack high-end graphics into a very light package, showing the enormous potential for NVIDIA’s Max-Q system — not just for gaming, but for the professional segment, too. If NVIDIA can keep increasing the performance while lowering the power draw and size, it bodes well for the future. Considering that Intel’s eighth-generation laptop chips are more powerful than anticipated, expect upcoming professional laptops to be even faster and more lightweight.

There isn’t a lot of competition for Quadro Max-Q laptops — yet. Along with the NT-15, MSI makes the very similar WS63VR, which features nearly identical specifications. MSI’s model is cheaper, however, at $3,400, as compared with $3,883 for the Origin model. It also packs a 4K (non-touch) screen, so the price difference is quite substantial in MSI’s favor. Origin is known for having lifetime support, free labor and repairs, a USB 3.0 drive backup and a fancy wooden shipping crate, so you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the nearly $500 price difference for those items.

Perhaps the main question: Buy now, or wait? If you need a workhorse machine today, you can’t go wrong with the Origin NT-15 Quadro or its slightly cheaper MSI WS63VR doppelgänger. Knowing that Intel is now rolling out its eighth-gen laptop chips, you might want to wait for a model that supports those and NVIDIA’s Max-Q as well.


The encryption many major companies rely on has a serious flaw

Researchers at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic uncovered a major security vulnerability in RSA keys generated by Infineon Technologies-produced chips. These chips are used in products manufactured by Acer, ASUS, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Toshiba and Chromebook vendors, reports Bleeping Computer and the RSA keys generated by Infineon’s chips are used in government-issued identity documents, during software signing, in authentication tokens, with message protection like PGP, in programmable smartcards and during secure browsing.

The researchers say that key lengths of 1024 and 2048 bits are able to be figured out with little effort using the public portion of the key. “A remote attacker can compute an RSA private key from the value of a public key. The private key can be misused for impersonation of a legitimate owner, decryption of sensitive messages, forgery of signatures (such as for software releases) and other related attacks,” they said in a report. “The vulnerability does NOT depend on a weak or a faulty random number generator – all RSA keys generated by a vulnerable chip are impacted. The attack was practically verified for several randomly selected 1024-bit RSA keys and for several selected 2048-bit keys.” And the affected RSA library has been generating weak keys since 2012. “The currently confirmed number of vulnerable keys found is about 760,000 but possibly up to two to three magnitudes more are vulnerable,” said the researchers. As Ars Technica reports, a number of the vulnerable keys included those used in Estonian government-issued documents like e-residency cards.

The vulnerability was discovered and reported to Infineon in February and as per the agreed upon delay before public disclosure, the researchers will be releasing their full report on November 2nd at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security. The delay is to ensure that people have time to change affected keys before the details of how the vulnerability works are released. It has also allowed vendors like Microsoft, Google, HP, Lenovo and Fujitsu to release software updates to mitigate the impact of the flaw.

The researchers have released a blog post about the vulnerability, which includes tools for testing whether existing RSA keys are secure or vulnerable. It also provides advice on what to do if you find your RSA key is compromised.

Via: Ars Technica, Bleeping Computer

Source: CRoCS


A 747 ‘Supertanker’ rains retardant on California’s wildfires

A converted Boeing 747-400 used to fight fires is a great example of old technology reborn with a new purpose. The aircraft, the largest passenger model in Boeing’s jumbo lineup, first entered service with Japan Airlines in 1991. After being converted to a water tanker, it can now dump up to 19,200 gallons of water or retardant in just six seconds as low as 200 feet above ground level (AGL), then climb away at 6,000 feet per second. Those stellar capabilities have made it a big help in fighting California’s insanely aggressive wine country fires, which have so far killed 40 people and destroyed over 200 homes.

The 747, dubbed “The Spirit of John Muir,” was converted to a tanker in 2012 by the previous owner, Evergreen airlines, before being purchased by Global Supertanker. Because it once served as a passenger craft, it has outstanding high and low-speed performance, flying at up to 600 mph and as slow as 165 mph with the flaps down in a landing configuration. Ground operators can refill it with gel, foam or water in as little as 30 minutes.

Suffice to say, maneuvering a massive jumbo jet loaded with 80 tons of water at 200 feet above ground level is not for the faint of heart. Low and slow flying, especially in large aircraft, is fraught with danger and requires piloting skills of the highest order, especially in the hilly, rising terrain around California’s Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and other counties.

In another video, a pilot of the twin-engine lead plane describes how the drops work. The lead pilot first flies to the fire area and assesses the situation, choosing the altitude, heading and “escape” route for the 747 Supertanker. Both planes then fly the route, with the lead plane tracking it first and then getting out of the way while the 747 makes its tank run. To see several drops from the 747’s cockpit, check out this insane video from an operation in Chile (the lead aircraft is visible at around 1:06).

If you think such a plane is impractical for firefighting, Global Supertanker assures us it’s not. Despite its enormous size, the 747 often flies just 200 feet over the highest obstacle at very low flying speeds, something that makes even Cessna pilots like me pucker up. But the enormous plane is astonishingly maneuverable and powerful, and offers the the best forward and peripheral visibility of nearly any jet. It’s also less expensive than you’d think, offering the lowest cost-per-gallon drops of any fire tanker aircraft.


Apple Plans to Appeal $439M ‘Final Judgment’ in FaceTime Patent Lawsuit With VirnetX

VirnetX today announced that the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has denied all of Apple’s motions in a longstanding FaceTime-related patent lawsuit between the two companies.

The court also granted all of VirnetX’s motions in the retrial and increased the royalty rates that Apple owes during the infringement period, resulting in a revised final judgment amount of $439.7 million.

“We are elated with the Court’s Final Judgement of $439 million in that not only did it affirm the jury’s verdict of $1.20 per infringing iPhone, iPad and Mac Product, but also added for willful infringement, interest and attorney fees. This is the third time a jury has ruled in our favor against Apple,” said Kendall Larsen, VirnetX CEO.

VirnetX originally sued Apple in 2010 over allegations that FaceTime’s peer-to-peer connection technology infringed upon its patents. VirnetX won its case in 2012, and Apple was hit with a $368.2 million judgment, but the appeals and retrial process has dragged on for over seven years until now.

Of note, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas is a hotbed for patent infringement lawsuits given several favorable outcomes for patent holding entities like VirnetX. Some would even call the company a patent troll, although it does appear to offer at least one product of some kind.

A spokesperson for Apple confirmed that it plans to appeal this final judgment, according to TechCrunch. It noted that the motions can still be appealed even if the original case was already appealed and lost.

Tags: FaceTime, patent trials, VirnetX
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Microsoft Outlook for Mac Gaining ‘Simplified’ Redesign With UI Similar to iOS App

Microsoft has revealed a redesign coming to its Outlook apps for Mac and Windows platforms, which is described as aiming for a “simplified” user interface that falls in line with the Outlook app for iOS. The Verge detailed the new and less complex version of Outlook on desktop, which was first spotted by MSPowerUser.

The Mac and Windows apps will feature a single-line ribbon that will be customizable so users can control which buttons are available, tailoring the email client to more easily accomplish their most common tasks. Clutter will be reduced with a smaller set of default commands, and the left navigation panel will include quicker access to folders across multiple accounts, visually similar to the switcher in Outlook on iOS.

Images via The Verge
Microsoft is said to have admitted that “MacBooks are popular amongst key influencers and decision makers,” so the company decided to overhaul its email client “to win these users by delivering the best Outlook has to offer.” Besides the design changes, Outlook for Mac will gain improvements to search and its calendar functions.

Search will become faster and “more reliable,” as well as be easier to access in the app’s top right corner. For the calendar, users will see an overall improved interface that makes managing appointments less of a hassle.

Microsoft hasn’t yet detailed when the new Outlook will launch for Mac and Windows, but the company is said to be testing internal versions of the software for both platforms. Before the major update, a few minor additions will launch on Mac, including the ability to slide-to-delete messages via Apple’s Magic Trackpad and a way to insert tables into emails.

It’s expected that the redesigned app will debut in updates first made available for Office 365 subscribers, and then launch in Office 2019.

Tag: Microsoft Outlook
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