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19
Jan

These websites let users calculate the damage from a nuclear missile


As if we weren’t all on edge enough following the accidental release of an imminent ballistic missile warning in Hawaii (thankfully a false alarm), a historian who studies science and nuclear weapons created two applications that are outright scary.

The first, Missilemap, lets users precisely calculate the range, accuracy and warhead size of a nuclear weapon, launched from anywhere in the world, and with a target anywhere in the world. Missilemap was designed to make it easy to see the relationship between missile range, accuracy, and warhead size to help people understand the power of nuclear warheads and long-range missiles.

In real-time use, Missilemap creates a graphical representation of ranges, targeting paths, accuracy, blast damage, and probabilities of death. In simple terms, you can theoretically ask if North Korea can hit, say, Honolulu or San Francisco, with their latest missile.

Its companion app, Nukemap, lets users pick their target and see how the target zone would be affected by a nuclear blast, including the fireball radius, radiation radius, air blast radius, and thermal radiation radius. Users can also export findings from Missilemap to Nukemap to see how their targets would fare.

For a single example, if we target Honolulu with a 10-kiloton weapon allegedly tested by North Korea in 2013, the app calculates that the fireball would be 500 feet, give victims third-degree burns up to a mile away, and result in nearly 50,000 fatalities and nearly 100,000 injured victims.

Meanwhile, if we target New York City with a “Tsar Bomba,” the largest weapon ever designed by the USSR and carrying a 100-megaton payload, we get a fireball nearly four miles in diameter, burns up to 45 miles away, and 8,012,450 fatalities.

The websites are the brainchildren of Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and technology at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Wellerstein, who has devoted his life to the study of nuclear arms and their effects on geopolitics, is on the advisory committee of the Atomic Heritage Foundation as well as the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues. He is also the author of “Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog.”

The sites aren’t meant to be used by professionals who work in the field of nuclear security. Wasserstein notes that the apps use somewhat simplified models for understanding the effects of nuclear weapons. All of the data employed by these sites come from unclassified sources.

As far as the geopolitical implications of the site, Wasserstein takes a position and it’s a clear one. On the Nukemap site, he writes:

“The Nukemap is aimed at helping people visualize nuclear weapons on terms they can make sense of — helping them to get a sense of the scale of the bombs. By allowing people to use arbitrarily picked geographical locations, I hope that people will come to understand what a nuclear weapon would do to places they are familiar with, and how the different sizes of nuclear weapons change the results.”

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19
Jan

Microsoft’s new bot can draw a photo-realistic bird based on text descriptions


Microsoft’s research labs created a new artificial intelligence, or bot, that can draw any image you want based on simple descriptions. The company says this bot can draw anything in pixel form stemming from caption-like text descriptions you provide. And although text-to-image creation isn’t anything new, Microsoft’s “drawing bot” focuses on captions as image descriptors to produce an image quality that is claimed to be three times better than other state-of-the-art technologies.  

“The technology, which the researchers simply call the drawing bot, can generate images of everything from ordinary pastoral scenes, such as grazing livestock, to the absurd, such as a floating double-decker bus,” Microsoft states. “Each image contains details that are absent from the text descriptions, indicating that this artificial intelligence contains an artificial imagination.” 

Microsoft’s drawing bot merges two components of artificial intelligence: Natural-language processing and computer vision. The research project started with a bot that could generate text captions from photos. The researchers then advanced the project to answer human-generated questions about images, such as identifying a location, the object in focus, and so on. 

But actually drawing an image is a huge step. While the bot can generate components based on text descriptors, it must “imagine” all the other missing pieces of the picture. Thus, if you tell the bot to draw a yellow bird with black wings, it has four descriptors, but must pull the remaining parts from data it acquired from previous drawings, photos, and more. In other words, knowledge obtained through machine-based learning. 

Microsoft’s bot relies on a generative adversarial network (GAN). Just imagine two teams of computers: One side must render an image to fool the other team into believing it’s an actual photograph. Both teams go back and forth, with the first saying the image is real, and the second saying “nuh-uh,” disproving the claim. The goal, obviously, is to render an image that finally fools the second team. 

In this case, the first team renders an image derived from text-based descriptions and the second team will disprove its “authenticity” as an actual photograph until the first team correctly renders the image. Microsoft first fed its GAN with paired images and captions so that it could understand that it needs to draw a bird based on that single word. 

From there, Microsoft continued to build the knowledge base with paired images and captions consisting of multiple traits, such as black wings and a red belly. But Microsoft says it’s not using just any GAN, but one that targets tiny details so the bot can produce photo-realistic results. Microsoft dubs it as an attentional GAN, or AttnGAN. 

“As humans draw, we repeatedly refer to the text and pay close attention to the words that describe the region of the image we are drawing,” the company says. “[AttnGAN] does this by breaking up the input text into individual words and matching those words to specific regions of the image.” 

You can read Microsoft’s research paper describing its AttnGAN here. 

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19
Jan

With a crazy folding design, Revolve has literally reinvented the wheel


Reinventing the wheel is a term that refers to a person trying to unnecessarily rethink an invention that’s already damn near perfect. But what if you do have an actual improvement to the wheel that justifies the reinvention? That may very well describe German designer Andrea Mocellin’s awesome Revolve wheel.

It’s a full-size, 26-inch spoked wheel that can be folded to a third of its diameter in a second, allowing it to take up just 60 percent of the space it would in its unfolded state. And it can be used for anything from bicycles and wheelchairs to, well, whatever else you might use a wheel for.

“Revolve has been designed and invented to be the first modular wheel,” Mocellin told Digital Trends. “With a simple action, you can open and close the wheel, making it practical and convenient for every user. Its portability is guaranteed with two handles that lock and unlock the wheel when unfolded.”

There are plenty of folding bikes and wheelchairs on the market. However, unless you go the route of deflating and re-inflating the wheels, there’s not too much that can usually be done to minimize the space they take up. That’s not ideal if you’re moving between different forms of transportation — say, for example, you’re catching a subway and bus to work, then cycling the rest of the way.

“Thanks to its modularity, the wheel has many possible applications, starting from bicycle and wheelchair to present and future foldable vehicles, land drones, and bike carts,” Mocellin said. “The vision is to open new frontiers to the present and future of foldable vehicles, starting collaborations with innovative companies and institutions that want to shape more efficient vehicles to everyday life.”

For now, Mocellin says the project needs the help of a company that is interested in bringing this innovative product to market. We thope it’s soon, though, because we’re running out of space for bikes in our apartment. This is the stuff disruptive technologies are made of.

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19
Jan

Best Travel Accessories for PlayStation 4


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Whether you’ve got the original model, the Slim or the Pro, if you travel with your PS4 these are the accessories to get.

Traditionally you play your games console at home, that is unless it’s a Nintendo Switch. But, it’s not a totally ridiculous idea that you might want to carry your PlayStation 4 around with you, particularly if you’re traveling on a lengthy trip.

It’s not the most convenient thing you’ll ever do, but with the right accessories you can certainly travel both (fairly) light and have a great experience on the road.

GAEMS Vanguard

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This big beastly thing is an all-in-one travel solution for your PS4 (and Xbox One if you prefer). It combines a durable, protective case with an HD monitor so you can literally play anywhere you have power.

The Vanguard can accommodate a console with its power cord and controller, and it’s built like an absolute tank. Inside there is LED lighting, which is super important, along with a custom fit foam base and accessory bags.

You’ll also get a sling strap to carry it on your shoulder (it’s going to be pretty heavy) and a remote control, and all in it’s a pretty awesome package for $350. You can pack your console inside with everything you need to play and off you go.

See at Amazon

Hori Universal HD portable monitor

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In some markets, this monitor comes with an official Sony PS4 license, but it’s also sold without the logo on the back and is otherwise the same monitor. It’s fairly pricey at around $200, but it has things a number of portable PC monitors don’t that mean you can use it with your PS4.

The biggest of those is the HDMI inputs. Many PC portable monitors hook up over USB, so while they’re cheaper, you can’t use them with the PS4. The Hori monitor has two, so you can switch between your console and your laptop while you’re on the road with ease.

It also has stereo speakers as well as a headphone jack and a really nice carry case to keep it safe. It’s only 720p resolution, but at 15.6 inches that’s not the end of the world, especially for console gaming.

See at Amazon

CTA Rolling Universal Gaming Backpack

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If the Vanguard isn’t for you but you still need a great way to carry your console and accessories around, this great backpack from CTA is worth consideration. Because it’s also got wheels so when it’s fully loaded you can drag it behind you rather than destroy your back and shoulders.

It’s big enough to accommodate your console, controller, headset, there’s even a special section to slot your game discs into and keep safe. If you want to carry it on your back, just pop the handle away and stick the dust cover over the wheels to keep your clothes from attracting whatever is on the wheels.

The devil is in the detail and in this bag, you’ll find controller straps to keep them organized and safe as well as a dedicated sleeve for slim model consoles to provide extra padding and stop them rattling around. There’s also space for a couple of water bottles and a headphone port so you can store your smartphone inside but still listen to your favorite tunes. And all for just $40.

See at Amazon

Sony PlayStation Gold wireless headset

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This isn’t necessarily the best headset for the PS4, but for gamers on the go, it’s a great buy. Not only is it an official Sony product with a companion app to manage it on the console, it’s wireless, sounds pretty good and importantly, folds away.

The lack of cables and the fact it folds up nice and compact and stashes away in the included bag makes it perfect for travel. Whatever bag you’re carrying your gear in, it’ll be able to safely find a home without taking up much space, and it charges from the same cable as your DualShock 4 controller.

It’s also now available at a great price of between $60 and $70. If you want something a little better, Sony also has a Platinum model for $120.

See at Amazon

RDS Controller case

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While boring, a controller case is an important and inexpensive way to look after it when you’re traveling. No matter how good your bag is, your controller could easily get damaged during travel, especially the sticks.

For $15 you can get this officially licensed case from RDS that has a thick foam interior with a cutout perfectly designed to hug your DualShock 4.

The hard outer shell will protect against knocks and there’s a useful interior pouch to keep your all-important charging cable.

And the logo on the outside looks pretty sweet, too.

See at Amazon

Portable hard drive

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At home, you may well have a large, powered hard drive with masses of storage to store your PS4 games on, especially if you have a 500GB console. That’s not going to work very well on the road since it’s probably pretty big and something else you’ll need power for.

A portable USB drive, though, won’t be such a hassle. It hooks up over a single USB cable, requires no external power and will slip inside even a small pocket inside your bag. There are plenty to choose from, including branded game drives from Seagate, and a bunch of small drives in various capacities from Western Digital.

See at Amazon

PlayStation 4

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19
Jan

OnePlus confirms up to 40,000 users affected by credit card breach


Things just went from bad to worse real quick.

On Monday, January 15, OnePlus announced on its forums that some customers had reported fraudulent activity on credit and debit cards used for purchases on oneplus.net. It was unclear at the time how many people had been affected or what caused this in the first place, and just a day later, OnePlus removed the option to make payments with a credit/debit card from its site.

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A few days later on January 19, OnePlus issued another update on its forums to confirm that this fraudulent activity was a result of a security breach that affected up to 40,000 users.

How in the world did this happen? According to OnePlus, a malicious script was added to the payment code of its site and sniffed out credit/debit card information as customers entered it. The script has since been eliminated, but it was active between mid-November of 2017 and January 11, 2018.

Thankfully, there are some caveats in regards to who’s been affected. Per OnePlus:

  • Users who paid via a saved credit card should NOT be affected
  • Users who paid via the “Credit Card via PayPal” method should NOT be affected
  • Users who paid via PayPal should NOT be affected

OnePlus says that it’s in contact with customers that have fallen victim to this attack and that it’s working with its payment processor and providers to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. If you’re unsure whether or not your card information has been compromised, keep an eye on your transaction history to confirm that any payments being made are ones you’ve authorized. If you want to be extra precautious (which we almost encourage in a case like this), it’s not a bad idea to contact your bank, cancel your current card, and get a new one.

Even though I already asked you this question, does this new information impact your decision to do business with OnePlus in the future?

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Amazon

19
Jan

Get the most out of your tax refund with the $49 TurboTax Premier tax software


April 15 is right around the corner.

Amazon had a Gold Box deal back in December that shared new pricing for TurboTax’s tax filing software. Back then the Premiere dropped from $70 to $55 and has stuck to that price. This is its first time dropping below $50, and no other retailer has matched it.

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As part of TurboTax’s exclusive with Amazon, you’ll also get a one year subscription Quicken Starter Edition 2018 with this purchase. If money is an issue for you, it might help to get a little more organized throughout the year and not just on tax day.

The Premier edition includes five free federal e-files and one state product. It can also help with investments, stocks, and things like that.

This is a physical disc that works with both PC and Mac.

See on Amazon

19
Jan

This little battery helps you hide the Amazon Fire TV power cable


If your TV’s USB port doesn’t put out enough power for your Fire TV, this battery box will take care of things.

Here’s a quick look at a little accessory that could make your Amazon Fire TV experience a little bit better. One hangup for folks when it comes to HDMI dongles is that they often still require an external power source. So you’ve got this little magic wonder box tucked behind your TV, out of sight, but there’s still a cord running down the back of the thing. It’s the home theater equivalent of having your fly open, basically.

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If you’re lucky, the USB port on your TV puts out enough consistent juice to power said dongle. That’s the case with every one of my TVs. But if your sets a little older, you might be out of luck. And that’s where the $20 Mission Cables USB Power Cable for Fire TV (or anything else that takes Micro-USB) comes in.

It’s a simple little thing — basically just a battery in a box. Your TV trickle charges the 2,000 mAh battery that’s inside, and the box then gives your Fire TV dongle consistent power.

And, uh, that’s it. There’s nothing else to it. No lights. No switches. Just plug it into your TV, and the other end goes into your Amazon Fire TV dongle. It’s about the same overall size as the Fire TV itself, and I’d recommend also getting something with which you can stick all of this to the back of your TV — you don’t want to put any stress on the cables or ports themselves.

See at Amazon

Amazon Fire TV

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19
Jan

Verizon Go Unlimited plans will include coverage in Mexico and Canada


Starting January 25, 2018.

If you want to get an unlimited plan through Verizon Wireless, you have two main choices – Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited. Both plans come with unlimited talk, text, and data, but Beyond Unlimited has a few extra perks such as higher-quality streaming, faster hotspot speeds, etc.

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Starting on January 25, Go Unlimited customers will get unlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada – something that ws previously limited to Unlimited Beyond subscribers.

Just like Unlimited Beyond, coverage in Mexico and Canda for Go Unlimited customers limits 4G LTE data speeds to 500 MB each day. Speeds are reduced to 2G following this but are then reset at midnight EST. Additionally, Go Unlimited plans will now come with unlimited calling from the United States to Mexico and Canada.

Go Unlimited typically costs $10-$20 less than Beyond Unlimited depending on how many lines you have, so it’s nice to see one of these perks come to Verizon’s more affordable unlimited option.

Verizon’s TV streaming service will consist of multiple standalone apps

19
Jan

A Few Reasons Why I Subscribe To Amazon Prime


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Wait — aren’t you signed up for Amazon Prime at birth? That’s how it works, right?

I don’t remember when I first signed up for Amazon Prime. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. It’s kind of like, I dunno. Shaving. It was a thing that you just started doing at some point. (Erm, and that I stopped doing a few years ago.)

Probably it had to do with faster shipping. That’s a pretty unsexy answer, but years ago that was the main perk, right? Free two-day shipping, and inexpensive options for next-day shipping.

The easier question is why I’ve continued re-upping Amazon Prime every year. That’s become an easier decision, and it’s never been one that I had to spend too much time on.

Sign up for a free Amazon Prime Trial

Yeah, the shipping options are still important. We’re ordering more things these days, not fewer. I don’t always do next-day delivery. (We don’t have same-day where I live.) Sometimes the free option is just fine, and you can’t beat free. But if I do need something as soon as possible, I don’t mind ponying up a few extra bucks to do it.

(OK, if I really need something as soon as possible I’ll drag my butt out of the house and go to one of those “store” places the old folks tell me about. But that’s such a hassle.)

The real reason I’ve so readily kept Amazon Prime, though? It’s got to be the digital services.

Start with Amazon Prime Video — probably the one we get the most use out of. For one, you get a ton of free shows. And for another, it’s a great babysitter. (Don’t judge, you do it, too.) Loads of old shows, for grown-ups and kids alike. And if you’re bored of the same old stuff, there’s a world of original content, too. (The wife and I are currently making our way through The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is as good as you’ve heard.)

See what’s new this month on Amazon Prime Video

If you’re like me and you’ve got a few Amazon Echoes (of various ilk) laying about, you also get a fair amount of free music through Amazon Prime. Yeah, I hit a wall pretty quickly on deep cuts. But if you’re just looking for some free ambient music, it’s a great option. So add that into the mix.

Another cool find I discovered this past year is Amazon Prime Photos. It’s a surprisingly good digital photo service, much in the same vein as Google Photos. It’s got a good amount of storage (with plenty of paid options), automatic backup, image recognition — and it turns the Echo Show into a great digital picture frame. (Which is really the only thing it’s good for.)

And finally, I’m a huge believer in the importance of reading, both for fun and for information. Amazon’s got a bunch of free reads, including a sort of old-school lending library.

And maybe even more important is that an Amazon Prime subscription gets you a free six-month subscription to The Washington Post. (The newspaper is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos but is a separate entity from Amazon itself.) And, yeah, I’m now paying for my WaPo sub.

So, yeah. That’s why I’ve still got Amazon Prime. Figure I’m easily getting back the $99 a year I spend to be a “member.” That part’s on me, though. If I wasn’t taking advantage of all that free content and those services, I’d be wasting the money.

For me and my family, though, it’s absolutely been worth it.

Amazon Prime

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19
Jan

Amazon adds voice control to its Alexa app for Android


Amazon added voice commands to its Music and Shopping apps a while back, but if you wanted to use your phone as an Echo-style speaker, you were out of luck. Now, though, an Alexa app update adds support for Alexa voice interaction on your Android phone.

Just like using an Echo or Echo Dot, you can use ask your phone’s Alexa to find nearby restaurants, order gadgets from Best Buy or find out what movies are playing in your town. Better yet, the updated Alexa app can show responses on-screen, too, giving you visual details about the upcoming weather, sports updates, calendar appointments and more. The update should roll out to Android customers in the coming days; the company promises an iOS update “soon.”

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