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20
Mar

FrontRow Camera review: A nice toy, but no game-changer


Taking pictures while at an event is always a little hit-and-miss. Either you’re clutching your phone the whole time to make sure you don’t miss a second, or you’re scrambling to get it out of your pocket/purse/whatever when the moment arises. The FrontRow camera seeks to change that, providing an easily accessible camera that can capture your whole night in the form of a time-lapse “Story” or individual instants or moments in time via photo or video.

Build & Design

Said camera is a stopwatch-sized smart device with an anodized aluminum body, sandwiched between two glass faces, and two cameras. This body features an integrated speaker, mic, and two buttons – one Power, one Capture. The top of the device also has a toothed clip to mount accessories (detailed below).

Its bottom features a Type-C USB port which, if you’ve read any of my accessory reviews in the past, you know is a favorite of mine. Type-C is the future, and it’s great to see an accessory manufacturer recognize that. In-hand, the FrontRow camera feels exceedingly premium; it’s hefty, and every detail of the device has been considered thoughtfully.

The front face of the FrontRow camera is glossy black and covered in glass, with a centered, reflective FrontRow logo and a camera sensor mounted above the face. This camera is an 8MP, f2.2 aperture sensor with a 148°±3° Field of View, resulting in an almost fish-eye view of the world. Live video can capture from 1080p to 2.7k (30fps), with OIS (Optical Image Stabilization).

On the flip-side, the rear face serves as the primary interface of the FrontRow with a 1.96″ LTPS LCD touchscreen. At 640 x 572 pixels (327ppi), this display is surprisingly crisp for such a small device. The high (though not quite HD) resolution makes viewing pictures and videos a joy.

It should be noted, though that you can rarely see the entire picture you’ve taken due to the circular nature of the device and the rectangular nature of the pictures it takes. There’s another camera mounted on the rear face, a 5MP, f2.0 aperture sensor with a 85° Field of View.

In Theory

For a little piece of hardware, the FrontRow camera offers surprisingly robust specs under the hood. It features 2/32GB RAM/ROM and a quad-core processor (though what brand or speed, we don’t know) that’s pretty snappy. Battery size isn’t listed, but, according to the FrontRow documentation it’ll last 50 hours on standby, 10 hours in “Story” mode, or 2 of video/live streaming.

To me, the more impressive aspect of the battery is how fast it charges via Type-C; just twenty minutes for a full charge, in my experience. This makes it extremely viable to charge via external battery on the go.

In terms of connectivity, the FrontRow camera is a bit of a mixed bag. The Type-C USB port is a big win for the accessories industry – too many accessories still use the outdated MicroUSB standard – and 802.11ac is the current WiFi standard, but a lack of Bluetooth 5 (FrontRow only uses the 4.1 standard) stings a bit. And while the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth are nice, the FrontRow really struggles to stay connected to its companion app when running in the background.

In Practice

As great as the FrontRow’s concept is – who wouldn’t want a camera that can capture every moment of an event in stunning detail? – it stumbles a little in execution. While the prospect of having a standalone camera is an enticing one, the fact of the matter is that most modern smartphone cameras feature a significantly higher megapixel count than FrontRow’s 8. And while megapixels aren’t everything – far from it – it does provide a sort of baseline governing what you should expect from a device.

There are three different Modes to choose from when using the FrontRow: Video (Live or Recording), Photo, and Story. The first two are fairly straight forward, but the last one is where the FrontRow sets itself apart. In Story mode, the camera will take a picture at set intervals and, once you end the Story, will stitch them together to form a time-lapse video summary. This mode is significantly less power intensive when compared to video (10 hours of story vs. 2 hours of video) and adequately summarizes your experience, providing a unique take on an event.

Samples

These videos end up being rather large. One of my stories came close to half a gig uncompressed, but with a little editing and compression they’re pretty shareable. It compressed a four hour game of Mansions of Madness into just over 15 minutes, and a few quick edits to resolution, speed and trimming cut that down to a trim 3 minutes.

Unfortunately, the FrontRow isn’t nearly as crisp and clean when it’s being worn, instead of stationary. The following clip is from the same night with the FrontRow clipped to my sweatshirt instead of placed. As you’ll see, the footage is rather disorienting – it bounces around a lot, and rarely provides a good view of what’s going on.

Still shots are adequate, but not anything game-changing. As you can see, the rear camera really bends photos with that 148° field of view.

There is one thing I did note that was particularly impressive: My FrontRow camera ran out of juice right in the middle of compiling my story after I stopped it. I was concerned that it would corrupt the video, but after charging and rebooting, that fear turned out to be unfounded. The Story resumed compilation right where it left off, and turned out fine.

Accessories Not Sold Separately

I’m truly impressed with how much FrontRow chose to include in the box with the camera. There are three different mounts – necklace, stand and lanyard – included in the box, with more on the way. There’s also a braided USB Cable (Type-C to Type-C) that has a Type-A adapter attached to one end. The lanyard and the USB cable match, to the point it’s almost plausible to build the cable into the lanyard – which would be amazing. Regardless, it’s nice to see FrontRow put as much effort into its accessories as it does into its main product.

OS

The FrontRow Camera OS appears to be based on Android Wear, though that isn’t confirmed anywhere in the included materials. As with all Android-based devices, the Home Screen features your choice of wallpaper. At the bottom of the screen is a carousel of apps, including Livestreaming (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Custom RTMP are all supported), Gallery, Spotify, and Stopwatch. From this carousel you also access the various shooting modes of the FrontRow, including Camera and Story mode.

The interface is largely gesture-based, though there is a Home button to take you back to the main screen. DropBox uploading is supported – and while that’s very much appreciated given the non-expandable 32GB storage, I would have loved to see Google Drive or Google Photos support baked into the device.

A fun toy, but no game-changer

In a world where smartphones are taking photos that rival those taken by high-end DSLRs, you’d expect to have a device that only functions as a camera to take photos at least that good. Unfortunately, the FrontRow doesn’t. It just doesn’t have a robust enough sensor to compete with the iPhone X, Pixel 2, or Samsung Galaxy S9. And at $399 MSRP – half the cost of a phone – it becomes a hard purchase to justify.

The FrontRow camera is available from many retailers, including from the source and from B&H. The cheapest price at the time of publication was from Amazon, at $322.99.

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20
Mar

Find your type: Here’s our guide for adding fonts to Photoshop


Photoshop may have “photo” in its name, but it is designed for all manner creative possibilities, including working with text. It’s also expandable, not limited to the fonts that come pre-installed or are already on your computer. This is good news, because those stock fonts aren’t good enough for you, are they? Of course not. You need a font that stands out because you have a message that needs to stand out, and Times New Roman won’t cut it. Fortunately, adding a font to Photoshop is easy, but there are a couple of ways to do it, which vary slightly depending on your operating system.

Using Typekit to add Fonts to Photoshop

Adobe Typekit is a font library for Creative Cloud that includes both free and paid options. The nice thing about using Typekit is that the font automatically syncs to all your Creative Cloud programs across all of your computers, and fonts can also be synced to your system to be used by non-Adobe programs.

1. Access Typekit

First, make sure you are connected to the internet to use Typekit. Then, from inside Photoshop’s menu bar, navigate to Type > Add Fonts From Typekit. (Another alternative is to click on Add Fonts From Typekit at the top of the font drop-down menu.) Typekit will then open inside a web browser.

2. Find your font

Using the Typekit search and navigation, find a font you like. When you head to Typekit directly from the Photoshop app, you’re automatically taken to the page that includes fonts that are part of your Creative Cloud subscription — you’ll see “My Library” selected at the top of the page. Use the filter tools at the right to help find a font you like.

You can navigate outside My Library to the Full Library and Marketplace, but the fonts located in these spots aren’t all included with the Creative Cloud plan and will require additional purchases. If you’re looking for free fonts, stay inside the My Library option.

3. Open the font and sync.

Once you’ve found a font you like, open the font page to see all the varieties. To download the entire font family, and click the “sync all” button all the top. If you only want one font in the family, just click the green sync button next to the name of the individual font.

4. Wait for the sync to finish

Typekit will automatically sync to your Creative Cloud apps. Make sure your Creative Cloud app (not just Photoshop, but the app that checks for updates) is open and that you are logged into your account. Wait for the sync to finish — if you’ve enabled Creative Cloud notifications, you’ll get a pop-up when the sync is completed. You can also check on the status of a font inside the Creative Cloud app by navigating to “assets” and then “fonts.”

5. Use your font

Once the font has synced, it will be available in the Photoshop font drop-down menu. You can also make it easier to find by clicking on the Typekit or Tk icon to see only the Typekit fonts. Some programs need to be restarted before accessing the font, but Photoshop isn’t one of them.

Installing a downloaded font to Photoshop

Photoshop isn’t limited to just Typekit fonts — you can download and use almost any font from any location, like Font Squirrel, which offers a large selection of free fonts. Photoshop supports fonts with a file name that ends with .otf, .ttf, .pfb, and .pfm and even variable fonts. Once you’ve downloaded the font, however, there is a process to add the font to Photoshop, and it won’t be automatically synced across your different computers. The exact steps will vary between Mac and PC systems. (Working on an older computer? Adobe has instructions for older operating systems.)

On MacOS X

1. Quit Photoshop, if it’s already running

It’s a good idea to close other active applications, too, at least those where you’ll want to use the font.

2. Find the font

By default, the font probably landed in your Downloads folder unless you changed the destination when downloading the file. Open the download folder in the Finder and locate the file. If the file was downloaded as a .zip, double-click it to decompress it.

3. Preview and install

Double-click the font file (it should end in .otf or .ttf) to open it in Font Book. Here, you can preview the font to confirm it’s what you want. Simply click the Install button and it will now be available to any application.

By default, Font Book will install fonts to a single user’s directory. If you have multiple users on your machine and want the font to be available to everyone, you can change this behavior in the Font Book preferences, by selecting “Computer” as the default install location.

Installing a font to Photoshop on a Windows PC

1. Find the font

Open the folder that you downloaded the font to and locate the font. If the font comes in a zip file, decompress the file first.

2. Select and click install

Highlight all the fonts that you want to install — you can do more than one at a time. Shift-click will select an ordered group, control-click will select fonts that aren’t right next to each other. With the fonts selected, right click and choose install.

You can now open Photoshop (or any other application) to confirm the font is installed correctly.

And that’s it!

Well look at you, titan of typefaces. You’re ready to take your DIY e-card, wedding invite, or motivational poster to the next level. But fair warning: Entering the world of aftermarket fonts can quickly turn into a long fall down a dark rabbit hole. The broad range of options available can make a designer’s dream come true, but the overwhelming number of choices means that finding the perfect font is just shy of impossible. So remember to breathe — and good luck out there.

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20
Mar

Adobe’s scan-to-PDF app adds editing tools and improved A.I.


Adobe

Adobe Scan allows for scanning from a smartphone camera, but without opening a second app or rescanning, users can’t complete tasks like deleting pages or adding new pages into an existing file. That’s changing with Modify Scan. On March 20, Adobe announced several updates to Adobe Scan, including an entire new suite of tools called Modify Scan.

The new tools allow users to add or delete pages, or even rearrange them without opening another application. PDFs can be re-cropped or re-cleaned to look more like a scan from a scanner and not a smartphone snapshot. All the changes are then saved in the Adobe Document Cloud.

Several changes simplify the task of working with PDFs spread out over multiple pages. The update allows users to add a page to an existing PDF by importing an image from the camera roll. The new page can then be dragged and dropped to the proper order. Modify Scan also allows a single page to be cropped without affecting the remaining pages. Pages can also be deleted or added in any order. New scans can also be added anywhere in the document.

Adobe says that the Modify Scan tool is a direct result of requests from existing users.

The update also includes enhancements using Adobe’s artificial intelligence framework, Sensei. The overall quality of that smartphone camera “scan” has improved, Adobe says, with better cropping of cleaning even in different lighting conditions.

The final feature in the update allows the app to detect low light conditions and automatically turn on the flash. Adobe Scan will then look for any dark shadows as a result of that flash and lighten them to create a clear image with the flash. Adobe says the change prevents hunting around to find the right light in order to capture a scan.

Adobe Scan launched last year as a free iOS and Android app for creating scans on the go without a scanner. At the launch, Adobe worked to separate the app from existing apps by using AI to auto-recognize text in order to create editable scans. The update is rolling out now as a free download, with in-app purchases to export files.

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20
Mar

Samsung’s latest Galaxy Tab Active 2 tablet is rugged and all business


Samsung is bringing the Galaxy Tab Active 2, previously only available in Europe, to U.S. shores, offering businesses even more choice when it comes to picking a rugged tablet that can survive the rigors of mobile office work on the go.

No, you won’t be able to purchase this tablet as it’s strictly not a consumer device. At the same time, it looks like a consumer-grade tablet because it’s meant to be easy to pick up and use — targeting a younger workforce that knows everything about smartphones and technology.

The Galaxy Tab Active 2 is rugged, combining a MIL-STD-810 certification that means it can withstand drops, extreme temperatures, and excessive pressure, and an IP68-rating against water and dust ingress. This mix makes the Galaxy Tab Active 2 ideal for extreme work conditions, from dusty building sites, to harsh weather, and wet fields. The tablet’s touchscreen has a touch sensitive mode that is designed to work while wet and with gloved fingers; and Samsung also has included physical buttons for ease-of-use, as well as a specially rugged S-Pen housed inside the tablet.

The Tab Active 2 has a choice of biometric scanning technology and Samsung’s Knox security to make sure the tablet’s work secrets stay secure. There’s a fingerprint scanner built in, but also facial-recognition, making it easy to access the device in varying conditions or with full hands.

The internal specs are modest, but 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage (with 256GB of optional added storage via MicroSD card) should provide more than enough oomph to keep the tablet running throughout its work life. The 8-inch LCD screen runs a 1280 x 800 resolution on Google’s Android 7.1 Nougat, and that resolution should allow the hefty 4,450mAh battery to keep the tablet running for a good while. That battery is also easily replaceable, as is the case protecting the tablet, allowing for fast replacements should the situation demand. Pogo pins allow for easy charging points and fast data transfer, as well as an optional keyboard for data entry.

An 8-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front-facing camera should be more than sufficient for scanning barcodes and taking pictures of documents. We saw special software on a Tab Active 2 — Scandit — capable of scanning many barcodes at once, and Samsung wants to replace the traditional barcode scanners you see delivery employees using. There’s also other support for a variety of business apps, including fleet management service Omnitracs.

Samsung also said its Knox technology could let employees safely switch off from work mode — say if a delivery driver is on break — so the company isn’t charged for any Netflix binge-watching the employee wants to catch up on during off hours. Again, the company hopes these kind of features will help with retention in these industries.

But what Samsung thinks is key is the amount of third-party support the tablet will have. We saw a mount and keyboard for the tablet, meant to replace workstations; and a docking station that can charge and house many Tab Active 2 devices at the same time.

The tablet comes with an optional LTE model upgrade. The standard Wi-Fi Galaxy Tab Active 2 will cost $420, while the LTE-equipped model will cost $520 and be compatible with Verizon and AT&T. If you’re interested, you’ll have to look for this tablet through your work’s IT channel distribution network.

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20
Mar

‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ comes to mobile worldwide as ‘PUBG Mobile’


PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has been having its thunder stolen in recent months by Epic Games’ Fortnite, and with the latter recently launching on mobile devices, it has been in plenty of headlines. But Bluehole and Tencent are aiming to become the most popular battle royale game once again, and that starts with the North American launch of PUBG Mobile.

Available now for free, PUBG Mobile is a port of the PC version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds rather than a specially designed game like the one Tencent released earlier in China, though only the original map is available right now. It’s built with Unreal Engine 4 and features the same 100-player mayhem of the other versions, but with touch controls built specifically for mobile devices. The game looks surprisingly great running on a phone, and we found the framerate on an iPhone 8 to often be better than it is on Xbox One X.

We found the framerate on an iPhone 8 to often be better than it is on Xbox One X.

Shooting in PUBG Mobile is as simple as looking at your target and tapping a small bullet icon on the screen, and you automatically sprint when holding the virtual control stick in the direction you wish to move. You can even use your mobile device’s built-in microphone to communicate with players if you’re playing in a squad, which is supported at launch, as well.

PUBG Mobile bears a very strong resemblance to PUBG: Exhilarating Battlefield, one of two Chinese games Tencent already released — if it isn’t the same game entirely. Another slightly twitchier game called PUBG: Army Attack was also released in China, but the decision to title the other game PUBG Mobile means it’s likely the only one that will make it to the United States.

Tencent suggests having at least an iPhone 6 to get the most out of the game, though it can technically run on an iPhone 5S running iOS 9. For Android users, you’ll need Android 4.3 or higher. When you first start the game, your graphical settings will be automatically determined based on the device you’re using, and it’s frankly difficult to tell the game apart from the other versions.

PUBG Mobile is available for iOS and Android in the United States right now. It will come to other regions at a later date.

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20
Mar

The creator of ‘The Sims’ wants to put your memories into his next game


Game designer Will Wright — developer of games like SimCity and The Sims — will already go down in history as one of the most influential figures in the industry — but his next project looks to be just as groundbreaking. Proxi is a game built on your own memories, and Wright wants you to help his team make it.

Proxi is a game built in Unity by Wright and the team at Gallium Artists, and it promises to create rendered scenes based on your unique personal memories.

“This is, in some sense, a game of self-discovery,” Wright said in the announcement video. “[It’s] a game where we actually uncover the hidden ‘you.’”

By visually representing your memories in Proxi, Wright hopes that players will be able to learn from their experiences more thoroughly, and that the game will learn from the player, as well.

The video shows a few of these scenes in action, including a man fishing in a lake during a rainy day and a snow-covered log cabin. These are called “Mems” in the game, and multiple players will even be able to combine their memories to create a shared, more complex experience. Wright and Unity are looking for an artist to help them bring these memories to life as “tangible, visceral gameplay elements,” and it could be you.

To enter the contest, you must take three of your own personal memories and bring them to life with separate environmental scenes. Along with this, you’ll need to get all the scenes running in Unity to create a video, and you’ll need to submit an article detailing your creation projects. The art assets created must all be done by you, and they cannot be something you designed previously.

Judges for the contest include Wright himself, Pixar artist Matt Jones, Disney illustrator Bill Robinson, and Journey game designer Robin Hunicke.

Two winners will receive a grand prize, which includes round-trip flights to San Francisco to meet the development team, a private dinner and interview with the judges, licenses for Allegorithmic and Marmoset, and a bundle featuring shirts, games, and stickers from Wright’s projects.

Proxi is scheduled to release later this year for mobile devices.

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20
Mar

Play ball! T-Mobile celebrates opening day with Major League Baseball giveaways


It’s Tuesday again, and that means more giveaways from T-Mobile. The Un-carrier has been getting quite carried away with its freebies this year, what with its cheap movie tickets, free donuts, and other perks that come along with being part of the big pink family. And now, in preparation for Major League Baseball’s opening day, T-Mobile is offering a free one-year subscription to MLB.tv and the MLB At Bat app’s premium features. Valued at $116, this may just help ease the pain that can come from looking at your monthly mobile bill.

“Going to bat for customers is what we do, and our customers love baseball … so we’re bringing them home a win next T-Mobile Tuesday,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. “Last year, Un-carrier customers streamed more than 1.3 million hours of baseball with MLB.tv thanks to the nation’s most loved wireless company, so we’re doing what do, giving them more of what they want.”

In addition to the subscription and the app giveaway, T-Mobile is also offering the chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to the 2018 MLB All-Star Week to be held in Washington, D.C., in mid-July. All of these offers will hit customers’ T-Mobile Tuesday apps come next Tuesday, March 27.

But even if you don’t win this swanky vacation, the offer of MLB.tv is nothing to sneeze at. As T-Mobile explains, this service delivers both home and away broadcast feeds, and gives baseball fans access to all out-of-market regular season games live. That means that you can watch your favorite teams play from your iPhone, Android, television, or any other supported device. Plus, MLB.tv allows for live game DVR controls for you to both pause and rewind live action.

The free subscription also comes with the perks of the MLB At Bat app, including enhanced pitch tracking, home and away radio broadcasts, and other baseball coverage that you would otherwise have to pay at least a couple hundred bucks for.

If you’re not thrilled about baseball, however, don’t worry — next Tuesday will also see T-Mobile offering up 10 cents off per gallon up to 20 gallons of gas from Shell. It’s a bit less exciting, perhaps, but certainly just as useful.

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20
Mar

HTC’s Desire 12 and Desire 12 Plus are big on display, low on cost


HTC has announced two new additions to its budget range, revealing the HTC Desire 12 and the HTC Desire 12 Plus.

There’s a lot to be interested about with these two models, not least the fact that they both embrace the bezel-less philosophy that’s oh so 2018. While they’re not as bezel-free as the iPhone X or the Galaxy S9, both have 18:9 full-screen displays, HTC Sense Assistant, and Android 8.0 Oreo right out of the gate, giving you a lot of phone for your money. Here’s the lowdown on each of these two new budget beauties.

HTC Desire 12

The HTC Desire 12 is the smaller of the two phones, but it’s still pretty beefy. It uses a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display running a 1440 x 720 resolution that’s not the sharpest we’ve seen, but should be sufficient for the price point. It’s powered by a Mediatek MT6739 that, while not the most powerful budget chip around, should be sufficient to keep the phone running everyday tasks smoothly. Buyers have the choice of two models — one with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, or another with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Storage shouldn’t be too much of an issue whichever you pick, since both models have a MicroSD card slot that can expand your available storage by up to 2TB.

You’ll find a 5-megapixel lens around the front of the phone, while the back houses a 13MP camera that looks good enough to get some decent snaps. It’s all wrapped up in shimmery acrylic, similar to the HTC U11 Life.

HTC Desire 12 Plus

As you might expect from the name, the Desire 12 Plus is the larger of the two, sporting a 6-inch IPS LCD, but still running the same 1440 x 720 resolution. It’s also received a more powerful processor than its smaller sibling with the Snapdragon 450, as well as 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a MicroSD card slot.

Around the front you’ll find an 8MP selfie-snapper, but the back houses a dual-camera setup, with a 13MP lens paired with a 2MP lens to provide the “bokeh” DSLR-style effect we’ve come to love. We’re looking forward to seeing what this budget camera has going for it. The Desire 12 Plus is wrapped in the same acrylic as the Desire 12, and if it’s as good an effect as on the HTC U11 Life then we look forward to seeing it in action.

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20
Mar

View in Your Space by Lowe’s applies AR to your next home improvement project


Augmented reality may not have an obvious application in your day to day life. After all, unless you’re playing Pokémon Go all the live-long day, it doesn’t seem as though there are many opportunities for you to bring virtual objects into your real world. But that could all change today. Beginning March 20, folks with Android smartphones enabled with ARCore will be able to leverage augmented reality technology in order to help (re)design their homes. It’s all thanks to a new AR feature called “View in Your Space,” courtesy of Lowe’s.

The latest functionality to be added to the Lowe’s app, View in Your Space helps buyers see what appliances, furniture, and other products might look in their homes before actually making their purchases. This, the home improvement store, might help cut down on instances of folks buying big-ticket items, only to realize that said items don’t fit quite as well in their overall vision as expected. With View in Your Space, customers will be able to place lifelike, size-accurate items from Lowe’s spring catalog into their outdoor spaces to ensure that what you’re seeing in a magazine will look just as good in real life. Because truly, seeing is believing.

In order to use the new function, users will need to tap on the “View in Your Space” option while looking through products in the Lowe’s apps. Then, you’ll be prompted to scan your surroundings, then wait just a couple seconds as the object of your choice appears in augmented reality. From there, you’ll be able to drag and drop your patio furniture, grill, or anything in between to the desired location.

View in Your Space will also allow you to actually walk around the AR version of the product, looking at it from different angles, all while it remains scaled to size and in your preferred location. If you decide that you like what you see, you’ll be able to purchase the item by clicking an icon located in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

Lowe’s notes that each year, problems with visualization and a lack of design assistance prevent the completion of some $70 billion in home improvement projects. But View in Your Space just may help get your next design venture underway.

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20
Mar

Bitcoin’s blockchain contains links to child pornography, possible illegal image


Researchers at RWTH Aachen University in Germany recently downloaded the entire Bitcoin blockchain and discovered it contains links to child pornography websites and a possible image of a “mildly nude” minor. They were investigating the blockchain’s non-financial data to uncover “objectionable” content but stumbled across the appalling surprise. The researchers provided their findings in a new paper during the Financial Cryptography and Data Security 2018 conference in late February. 

At the time of the download, Bitcoin’s blockchain weighed at a hefty 122GB in size. The researchers concluded that only 1.4 percent of all blockchain transactions contain non-financial data, which consumes a mere 118.5MB of the entire blockchain volume. Even more, the transactions with data they could actually read weighed a mere 22.6MB. This is where they stumbled across the child pornography. 

A blockchain typically records transactions using Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies. It’s a decentralized ledger that keeps track of anonymous purchases between buyer and seller. It’s secure because the technology is based on cryptography, thus data can’t be modified or traced back to a specific individual.

But users can inject the blockchain with non-financial data by encoding that data as a standard transaction. Currently, there are four services that can inject non-financial data into the blockchain: CryptoGraffiti, Satoshi Uploaded, P2SH Injectors, and Apertus.

After their investigation, the researchers unearthed 274 links to child pornography sites. But the problem goes beyond child pornography: The blockchain can also be used to store pirated copyrighted content, malware, stolen personal data and/or images, leaked government information, and other “illegal and condemned” content.

The real kicker is how a blockchain works: Because it is decentralized, it relies on a network of millions of PCs scattered across the globe rather than one specific bank or government institution.  Thus, given that anyone can inject the blockchain with non-financial data, controversial and possibly illegal content can be problematic for everyone maintaining the blockchain. 

“Since all blockchain data is downloaded and persistently stored by users, they are liable for any objectionable content added to the blockchain by others. Consequently, it would be illegal to participate in a blockchain-based system as soon as it contains illegal content,” the paper states. 

Because of a blockchain’s anonymous nature, countries will need to add this technology to their list of platforms that can’t post illegal content, such as filesharing networks, newsgroups, online storage, social networks, and so on. More specifically, they need to deem blockchain data illegal that can be converted to “visual representation of illegal content” by anyone with access to the blockchain. 

“A plethora of fundamentally different methods to store non-financial–potentially objectionable–content on the blockchain exists in Bitcoin. As of now, this can affect at least 112 countries in which possessing content such as child pornography is illegal. This especially endangers the multi-billion-dollar markets powering cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin,” the paper adds. 

Unfortunately, due to the cryptographic nature of the blockchain, methods to remove illegal content is unknown at the moment.

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