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Google’s Mobile App Gets New Look, Feel

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Google has announced a re-tooling of its search app on mobile phones to include a personalized feed of links about hobbies, travel, sports and other topics, a move that puts the search company into more direct competition with social networks such as Facebook.

Google, the world’s largest search engine and a unit of Alphabet Inc, said the changes would begin rolling out in the United States on Wednesday and other countries in the coming weeks.

The new offering is called “Google Feed,” a name that may conjure comparisons to Facebook’s “News Feed,” a feature on Facebook used to browse updates from friends, family and other sources.

Google said, however, that it was not trying to duplicate Facebook Inc, the world’s largest social network. Instead, the company said it wanted to create another place to see a stream of relevant search results.

“This feed is really about your interests … It’s not really about what your friends are interested in,” Ben Gomes, a Google vice president for engineering, said in a briefing with reporters.

Typical updates might include a link to a website with tips about an upcoming vacation spot, or a link to a page about cycling or another hobby, the company said.

Facebook and Google are jockeying for attention online and by extension, for advertising revenue based on those eyeballs. The two Silicon Valley companies are expected to take in some 50 percent of overall online ad spending in 2018, according to research firm eMarketer.

There were no immediate plans to include advertising in Google Feed, Gomes said.

Google Feed will suggest links based on a user’s Google search history as well as data from other Google services, such as YouTube, Gmail and Google Calendar, the company said.

In addition to putting Google Feed on mobile apps, the company is looking at attaching it to web browsers in some form, Shashi Thakur, a second Google vice president for engineering, said during the briefing.

Will WhatsApp Face Competition From Amazon

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Just when you thought the messaging app market couldn’t get any more crowded, along come the rumors that Amazon wants a piece of the action.

According to AFTV News, Amazon has begun surveying customers about the new messaging service to gauge which features are most important them.

Called Anytime, the rumored app will apparently be a one-stop-shop focused on voice and video calls, alongside a photo sharing feature with @mentions, as well as some highly-original real-time filters for photos and video with “special effects and masks.”

So yes, that will almost definitely mean more basic dog-eared AR seflies *eyeroll emoji*.

If the rumors are true, the service would also keep chats private and allows users to “encrypt important messages like bank account details”, allowing them to converse with businesses, make reservations, and – in true Amazon style – virtually shop until they drop.

“Based on the images I’ve been provided, Anytime by Amazon seems to be an all-in-one feature rich service that could even rival social networks,” the AFTV report stated. “[It] will also provide tasks that can be done in groups, like playing games, listening to music, and ordering food.”

There’s no word on how long the app will take to get into the phone-wielding hands of the masses, but a customer said the survey implied it was “a ready product”.

Are you surprised that Amazon is making a move on the messaging app market? We’re certainly not. The firm is desperate to get in on any kind of action these days in its plan to take over the world and be the go-to for everything.

Don’t be shocked when the company launches its own dating service, where we would expect you could get a dinner date with Alexa as part of a Black Friday deal.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Virtual Reality To Expensive For The Masses

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The current generation of virtual reality is not dead, but it’s not exactly full of life, either. What once was a pulsating buzz has faded into the background of an industry, not because there are newer, shinier toys to play with, but simply because for all the newness and shine of VR, there has been little evidence that a significant audience exists for the experiences we can deliver at this time.

Earlier this week, Oculus instituted a temporary $200 price cut of the Rift, dropping the headset and its Touch controllers to a $400 bundle that comes packed with seven free games (including Lucky’s Tale, Medium, Toybox, and Robo Recall) and an Xbox One controller for good measure. That’s in addition to the $200 price cut Oculus rolled out in March for the headset and Touch combo, meaning the company has slashed the price by 50% in just four months.

On its own, this could actually be an encouraging sign, but taken in context of the rest of the news coming out of the VR sector, it’s more concerning than convincing. For one, Oculus looks to be bringing up the rear among the three major high-end VR options on the market, despite being a first mover and having the significant financial backing of Facebook. Through the first half of this year, tracking firm Superdata put the Rift’s installed base at just 383,000 units, compared to HTC Vive’s 667,000 units and PlayStation VR’s 1.8 million.

Even ignoring its relative sales position, Oculus is already in a tough spot in the enthusiast VR fight, technologically a step behind the more expensive Vive, but still more expensive (when considering the cost of a VR-capable PC) and less mass market than the PSVR. That’s a difficult problem for marketing anything, doubly so when what you’re selling is an experience that by its nature needs to be experienced to be fully understood, triply so when you’re drastically scaling back the number of demo units in retail locations where interested customers could get their first taste of VR.

I also question Oculus’ decision to shutter its in-house Story Studio, which was set up with Pixar veterans to show how VR could shift the medium of film as much as it could games. The studio’s Henry won an Emmy in 2016. Its follow-up, Dear Angelica, premiered at Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews and has been submitted for Emmy consideration at this year’s awards, which are still a few months away. In short, Story Studio was exactly the sort of investment in a potentially disruptive medium you would expect a company with long-term ambitions to keep. Instead, they cut it loose, with head of content Jason Rubin essentially saying it was time for external filmmakers to pick up the narrative VR ball (albeit with some $50 million in funding from Oculus).

There’s a bit of a theme there. Just a couple months before closing Story Studio, Rubin pointed out for GamesIndustry.biz at GDC that Facebook–and by extension, Oculus–isn’t a content creation company.

“Facebook’s not a media company,” Rubin said. “So there may be a day where Facebook says we’re going to head towards our core competency… That’s why I don’t have internal teams. I have exactly one group of three people besides Story Studios because that didn’t exist outside.”

Facebook didn’t pay $2 billion for Oculus in 2014 because it wanted to make games. It wanted VR to be a popular thing it could leverage for its social network. If HTC Vive or Sony or Microsoft can make VR work better than Oculus, that still gets VR where the social network wants it to be. That’s not ideal for Facebook, but after the Rift’s slow start, the hundreds of millions it already owes in court judgments, the hundreds of millions more it might be made to pay in the future, and seeing the face of the VR revolution leave under a cloud of controversy, one could understand if the company’s commitment to VR began to waver.

Speaking of the competition, I’m not terribly optimistic with what they’re bringing to the table. Sony’s PSVR is leading the pack, but I’m still skeptical whether the company’s interest in the hardware will be any longer lasting than its support for Vita, or Wonderbook, or PlayStation TV, or Move, or EyeToy, or stereoscopic 3D. Sony’s E3 conference featured some promising games in Polyarc’s Moss, two titles from Until Dawn developer Supermassive, and Skyrim VR, but little that stands out as a system-seller the way that Resident Evil 7, or even the prospect of last year’s Batman and Star Wars VR experiences might have. When asked at E3 about whether that lineup would boost PSVR adoption, Sony’s Jim Ryan was unsure.

“I think we are still really just learning about VR,” Ryan said. “When hopefully we meet in a year’s time, I will be able to give you a better answer to this question. It still won’t be a perfect answer, but I’ll know more.”

That’s not exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence from PlayStation’s chief marketer. I’m not sure I want to bet the future health of VR on Sony’s continued support for a market that is (for now, at least) peripheral to its core business.

The situation with HTC and the Vive underscores another issue when trying to establish an emerging field like VR. Vive launched at the cutting edge, but since then has rolled out object tracker peripherals and a wireless adaptor, respectively giving developers more options and addressing a key complaint around high-end VR. In both cases, they would be better served as being part of the core hardware package rather than optional add-ons for what is already the most expensive option on the market. For the next generation of VR, perhaps they’ll be standard.

But who will invest in the next generation of enthusiast VR–on either the consumer side or the manufacturer side–if this generation disappoints? How long does a VR generation need to be before someone who spent $800 on a Vive (not to mention the cost of a VR-capable PC) feels they got their money’s worth and would re-up for a successor? How many great games does it need to have? How many generations does an HTC or Facebook need to take a bath on before the business turns around and justifies the continued investment?

Then there’s Microsoft, which will enter the fray this holiday season with its “mixed reality” VR headsets for Windows that are cheaper and require less of a set up than Oculus or Vive, but appear to make compromises on the technical side to get there. It’s telling that even with Microsoft launching the high-end, VR-capable Xbox One X this year, it is foregoing any sort of console VR push and relying on higher resolutions and better frame rates for Xbox One games as the sales pitch for a One X. Phil Spencer told us at E3 that VR was still years away from the mainstream for gamers, suggesting the company was waiting to launch its console VR until it had a proper wireless solution ready.

At this point, it seems more likely to me that the current enthusiast VR market is an expensive R&D exercise that won’t produce successful systems, but will lay the groundwork for the actual mass market VR, which will instead evolve both in audience and use-cases from the mobile VR world. (We call it mobile VR, but I don’t think I’m alone in having never once seen someone using a mobile VR headset on the subway, in the security line at the airport, or in the waiting room at a dentist.)

A number of the VR developers I’ve spoken to have mentioned wires, price, system-selling software, and installed base as key issues VR needs to tackle to become truly mainstream. As Google Daydream and the Oculus-powered Gear VR have shown, the first two are all but solved problems in mobile VR thanks to the use of existing smartphones. As for the other two, when your system is only $100 or so, the definition of a system-seller changes dramatically, which then has plenty of beneficial implications for the installed base. (Promotions like Samsung giving away Gear VR with new Galaxy phone purchases don’t hurt, either.)

All mobile VR really needs are better interfaces and more powerful phones. The Gear VR motion controller is a good first step for the former, and the latter is improving all the time. If VR is really going to go mass market, doesn’t it make more sense for it to grow not from the high-end early adopter market who would have dropped $600 on a PS3, but from the masses who made a compelling novelty like the $250 Wii a phenomenon?

Courtesy-GI.biz

Premium Nokia 8 Handset May Launch By End Of July

July 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

The premium Nokia 8 could get everything from dual cameras to Qualcomm’s fastest Snapdragon 835 chip (the same one that’s in the Samsung Galaxy S8), according to well-known mobile tipster Evan Blass, who also writes for VentureBeat. The phone may even be unveiled as early as July 31, Blass suggests.

If true, this is just what the Nokia brand — once a top-two titan of mobile — needs. After Microsoft sold a company called HMD the rights to use the Nokia mobile name in 2016, the company has released three midrange Nokia Android phones, the Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6, and a throwback to a simple feature phone, the Nokia 3310. The Nokia 8 could help bring some luster back to the flagging brand.

Some rumored Nokia 8 specs include: 5.3-inch screen, 2,560×1,440-pixel resolution (QHD), dual 13-megapixel cameras featuring Zeiss optics, Android 7.1.1 Nougat, Snapdragon 835 processor,  4GB or 6GB of RAM.

The phone is also said to cost around 589 euros, which translates to about $675, £520 or AUD$865. This puts it at a much higher price than the current most expensive option — the Nokia 6.

The Nokia 8 reveal was speculated to take place in a promotional Nokia video in May, but the actual video didn’t show much besides glimpses of the phone’s appearance.

HMD Global, which licenses the Nokia brand name, declined to comment on this story.

Court Grants FBI Right To Continue Secret Surveillance Requests

July 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The FBI will be allowed to continue sending surveillance orders to tech companies and ban them from disclosing those requests, an appeals court ruled Monday.

Internet company Cloudflare and wireless network operator CREDO Mobile sued the federal government to be allowed to disclose public national security letters they have received. They argued that the letters, which are administrative subpoenas issued by the government to gather information for national security purposes, are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections.

Critics of national security letters — like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represented Cloudflare and CREDO in the case — say they “allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens’ private communications and internet activity without any meaningful oversight or prior judicial review.” Companies that receive national security letters, or NSLs, are subject to gag orders, which means they can’t even disclose they’ve received such orders unless the letters become declassified. And those gag orders last indefinitely.

A three-judge panel on a US court of appeals in San Francisco on Monday upheld a lower court ruling that NSLs can remain secret. In their unanimous ruling, they said the Supreme Court “has concluded that some restrictions on speech are constitutional, provided they survive the appropriate level of scrutiny.”

The law behind national security letters considers that disclosing the orders could result in danger to the national security of the US, interference with an investigation, interference with diplomatic relations; or danger to the life or physical safety of any person, the judges said in their opinion.

“We therefore conclude that the 2015 NSL law is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, both as to inclusiveness and duration,” the opinion said. “Accordingly, we hold that the nondisclosure requirement … survives strict scrutiny.”

Andrew Crocker, an attorney with EFF, said in a statement that he’s disappointed the court “failed to recognize that the NSL statute violates the free speech rights of technology companies that are required to turn over customer data to the FBI and banned indefinitely from ever publicly discussing the requests.”

He added that NSLs prevent companies from being open with their customers.

“Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit avoided addressing the serious First Amendment problems with NSLs, particularly the fact that they are often left in place permanently,” Crocker said. “We’re considering our options for next steps in challenging this unconstitutional authority.”

The US Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling.

Intel Launches ‘Purley’ Xeon To Compete With AMD’s Epyc Processors

July 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Intel has unveiled a new series of ‘Purley’ Xeon server processors based on its new Skylake-SP architecture. 

The new Intel Xeon SP (‘Scalable Platform’) CPUs, which feature up to 28 processor cores per socket and six terabytes of system memory, were unveiled in New York on Tuesday, and the firm claims a 1.65 times performance boost, on average, compared to the prior generation Broadwell-based server CPUs.  

The launch comes just weeks after AMD unveiled its Epyc line of server processors based on the Zen architecture, which offer up to 32 cores per chip. Intel took a dig, naturally, and claims that its top-end Xeon Scalable processor delivers 28 per cent faster performance than AMD’s Epyc 7601. 

Given the higher core count of its new server chips, Intel has created an all-new Mesh architecture design which is claims will offer a “fundamental change” to performance. Unlike the firm’s previous ‘ring’ design (arf), the Mesh architecture arranges the individual cores in a 3D design, offering more direct paths and, in turn, faster performance. 

The new processors, Intel claims, have been designed for growing, and compute-heavy workloads, such as cloud computing, autonomous vehicles, 5G and artificial intelligence, the latter of which will reportedly see a 2.2x performance increase with Xeon Scalable.  

“Data centre and network infrastructure is undergoing massive transformations to support emerging use cases like precision medicine, artificial intelligence and agile network services paving the path to 5G,” said Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Data Center Group.

“Intel Xeon Scalable processors represent the biggest data center advancement in a decade.”

The new Xeon SP processors also deliver a 3.1 times performance improvement generation-over-generation in cryptography performance, according to Intel, which has also built its Key Protection Technology onto the chip to deliver enhanced protection to security key attacks.

The Xeon Processor Scalable Family offers four processor tiers, representing different levels of performance and a variety of integration and acceleration options: Copper, Silver, Gold and Platinum. 

Intel says that it has already begun rolling out the new hardware to customers, with the likes of Google Cloud, AWS and AT&T having already bagged some of the 500,000 units shipped out ahead of Tuesday’s official launch. 

Intel’s server-class Purley processors are tipped to power Apple’s upcoming iMac Pro, which is set to be released in December.

Courtesy-TheInq

AT&T Offers ZTE’s Blade Spark Smartphone For Only $99

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

These days, low-cost and durable smartphones that will stretch your dollar aren’t too hard to find. Case in point is the newest offering from AT&T and ZTE: the Blade Spark.

Available as a prepaid phone, the Blade Spark features a fingerprint reader, a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor and Android Nougat 7.1.1. Given that it only costs $99, too, the phone is a good deal for anyone looking for a budget phone.

The Blade Spark (which has a design that reminds me a lot of 2014’s Motorola Moto X from the back) also has a 5.5-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter that has its own dedicated button on the edge of the phone to fire off the shutter.

Other devices to consider around this price range is the $185 Motorola Moto G5 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy J3, which starts at $110. For more about budget phones, check out our top 10 picks for cheap phones we love.

Apple Pay Tempts Chinese Consumers With Huge Discounts

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

China’s mobile payments market is worth almost $6 trillion, and Apple wants to elbow its way in.

To entice more Chinese to start using Apple Pay, the iPhone maker is offering up to 50 percent discounts off purchases at participating vendors, many of them Western brands. It’s also rewarding users up to 50 times the usual points for designated credit cards, according to Apple’s official Chinese website. The promotion period will run from July 18 to 24.

China is a tough market to break into for Apple Pay, because the Chinese are more familiar with local mobile payment services such as WeChat Pay and Alipay. The two services have a combined market share of 92 percent, and people are so dependent on them that the companies have expanded overseas specifically to cater to Chinese travelers.

Promotions are offered by Apple Pay, but they are subject to varying terms and conditions set out by merchants. While Burger King and Costa Coffee have capped 50 percent discounts at 15 yuan (or $2.22), for example, 7-Eleven set its cap at 10 yuan (approximately $1.48). Starbucks, on the other hand, will take 15 yuan off purchases amounting to 60 yuan (or $8.86) or more.

Former MIT Professor Predicts Telepathy On The Horizon

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

A former MIT professor and engineering executive at Facebook, Oculus, Intel, and Google claims she is close to making communicating telepathically happen relatively soon.

Mary Lou Jepsen quit her job heading up display technology for the Oculus virtual reality arm of Facebook to develop new imaging technologies to help cure diseases.

Shortly thereafter she founded Openwater, which is developing a device that puts the capabilities of a huge MRI machine into a lightweight wearable form.

Openwater is creating a device that can enable us to see inside our brains or bodies in great detail. With this comes the promise of new abilities to diagnose and treat disease and well beyond – communicating with thought alone.

This week Jepsen went further and suggested a timeframe for such capabilities becoming reality. She said that it should take less than eight years until telepathy is possible.

Jepsen, who has also spent time at Google X, MIT and Intel, says the basic idea is to shrink down the huge MRI machines found in medical hospitals into flexible LCDs that can be embedded in a ski hat and use infrared light to see what’s going on in your brain.

“Literally a thinking cap. The idea is that communicating by thought alone could be much faster and even allow us to become more competitive with the artificial intelligence that is supposedly coming for everyone’s jobs very soon.”

She said that the tech is close. “If a person is put into an MRI machine it is possible to tell you what words you’re about to say, what images are in your head, music you’re thinking.”

All that is required is to shrink all that down. If it were that easy, why did the US bother with waterboarding?

Courtesy-Fud

Is Video Game Development Going Truly Global?

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

The international video games industry owes a considerable amount to the efforts of immigrants from countries like Syria.

Companies like AdMob – founded by Syrian Entrepreneur Omar Hamoui, and later acquired by Google for $750 million – have helped reshape the conventions of game publishing as we know it. Steve Jobs’ own biological father was a Syrian emigrant to the states. On taking that journey, Abdulfattah ‘John’ Jandali unknowingly set events in motion that would lead to Apple’s reinvention of how we play, make and distribute games.

Beyond games there are numerous other examples of Syrian people who have helped better the world through technology, empowered to do so through freedom of travel. People like Sirin Hamsho, a Hama-born engineer who today resides in the United States, and has helped revolutionise renewable energy through her work with wind turbines.

Technology is, of course, progressed by collaboration, and cooperation happens most readily when people can get together. It’s the reason travelling to other countries – be it for a single meeting or a new life – is so often the catalyst for technological change. That’s why most in the games industry go to conferences all over the world; it’s a chance to understand distinct approaches, secure contacts, form alliances and spark collaboration.

When Trump’s long-promised travel ban became a rather chaotic reality, numerous games makers suddenly found their potential severely jeopardised. Suddenly, every US games conference was off the radar of hundreds of developers. No GDC, no E3, no nothing. Studios needing to take a couple of days to attend a meeting with a US publisher had the rug pulled from beneath their feet. Chances to meet new staff and find new partners were thrown into disarray.

That inspired Unity Technologies to conceive the ‘Unity Without Borders’ initiative, which sought to bring 50 developers to the Unite Europe conference in Amsterdam last month. After a selection process, Unity would handle and cover travel, accommodation, visas and anything else needed to afford games makers limited by Trump’s ban to engage with the free exchange of ideas that is the founding spirit of almost any game convention.

Meeting the developers brought to Unite as part of Without Borders, it is clear they greatly appreciate the opportunity. That, perhaps, should be obvious, but there is a sense on the show floor that the effort is about more than one middleware-specific company conference.

Ziad MollaMahmud is a man with many skills. By day he is a .NET developer for web applications, while also doing 3D modelling work in the architectural space. A Syrian based in Turkey, he has in recent years embraced game development, acquiring a taste for AR, which he has explored through modest projects of his own conception.

“This is a very, very good opportunity for me,” MollaMahmud says of his success in visiting Unite Europe as part of Without Borders. “It’s a breaking point in my life, where I can move to a better position and change my way of thinking about the future. I believe coming here will have a very good effect over me and my future.”

That’s not to say MollaMahmud is new to being overseas for his career. He estimates that he has visited some 13 countries during his 20-year career, but with the outbreak of Syria’s civil war – and long before the impact of Trump’s presidency – the ambitious developer started to realise global politics would limit his professional potential.

“It’s not only Trump. There’s a lot of restrictions on Syrian’s travelling and doing other things, and that makes it very hard”

“After the Syrian war started a lot of Middle Eastern countries placed travel bans on Syrians, just because of their nationality,” he says. “I was travelling before – without any visa – but after the war they all started to do these travel bans, and I couldn’t travel to the Middle East. It’s not only Trump. There’s a lot of restrictions on Syrian’s travelling and doing other things, and that makes it very hard.”

Those restrictions – whatever their source or motivation – continue today, and in many other ways that also prevent developers from collaborating. Many Iranian and Syrian studios keen to apply for Without Borders were faced with limitations on web access that impeded their submissions for the initiative. There’s a logic to the internet making face-to-face meetings less relevant today, but when the web you can access is restricted presence at real-world events is all the more important. And that was, Unity says, what inspired the Without Borders initiative.

“In some of their communities – especially in countries like Iran and Syria, where they can’t move around as much – they don’t have a lot of access to a lot of game developers or creators,” says Elizabeth Brown, Chief People Officer at Unity, who has been pivotal in implementing Without Borders. “Coming to a conference not only fuels inspiration, but establishes skill sets, sparks ideas and builds networks. They don’t always have access to a local game development community, so they rely on international conferences to feed them and develop their creations and businesses. When they are limited from going to those conferences, they are super limited. That’s as creators, but also as business owners. Some of them are making their living by making games.”

For Brown, this isn’t just a matter of providing those with a passion for games an exciting opportunity; it is about helping developers put food on their tables. Often, that is incredibly limited for a developer restricted to just their home country, market and development community.

“We don’t have anything like this in Iran,” explains Amin Shahidi, as he glances around the main expo hall of Unite Europe, smiling. Shahidi is team lead, animator and game designer at the Tehran-based studio Black Cube Games, and he’s at Unite thanks to Without Borders. “We don’t have these kind of networks,” he continues. “So in Iran, all the movement of developers is very limited, or even blind. So this kind of event – and the moment of being here – is very, very cool and very, very helpful.”

“It shows us that people actually care about us,” adds Ali Boroumand, a game developer at Dutch studio Ferox Games, and a former colleague of Shahidi’s. “We’re all humans, and we’re all pretty much the same people. So it’s very heart warming to think that, even in hard times, people see game developers as game developers. We’re all game developers, and it doesn’t really matter where we come from. We’re all trying to make good games.

“But before this, we had to rule out contributing to any conferences or studios inside the United States. We couldn’t contribute to anything there, and that’s probably a loss on both sides. And beyond the travel ban, there are quite a few other United States restrictions, mostly on money. Selling games outside of Iran is hard for us.”

Boroumand makes a very important point with regard to what Iranian developers have to offer the rest of the global games development community. Restricting developers’ opportunity to travel doesn’t only harm the game industry in their home countries; it equally detracts from the nations they would otherwise be visiting. Collaborating is at least a two-way process, and the learning, inspiration and innovation it engenders rarely passes only in a single direction.

“Syria, like anywhere, has talented people who can bring a lot of things to games development and all technology,” suggests MollaMahmud. “But we need a chance to open the window and say ‘we are here, you can do things for us, and we can do things for you’. We just need a chance to elevate ourselves and do something not just for ourselves, but for all those that make games. We can help your games when we can travel to you freely.”

Equally, there’s an obvious creative opportunity for any studio looking to bring distinct aesthetics and approaches to the global market.

“Iran has quite a long history,” says Boroumand, who is presently based in Sheffield. “The Persian empires have been around for a few thousand years, so Iranian art and Iranian culture is pretty rich in that respect. Games of Iranian art and Iranian influence can bring something to the rest of the world, definitely; something that isn’t often seen.”

There’s an irony to all this, of course. Trump’s travel ban has afforded the Unity Without Borders teams an opportunity to visit a conference they may never have seen had the US President not targeted the various nations blacklisted. For MollaMahmud, however, the irony of opportunity born from limitations runs a little deeper. Buoyed by his experience of attending Unite, he can be remarkably optimistic about a situation that had s dramatic impact on his life.

He believes the horrific Syrian war, which broke out just a couple of years after he returned to live in the country, offers an ultimate example of the potential opportunity hardship can bring game developers.

“After the war is finished – and I hope that is soon – I believe there will be a very good opportunity in Syria for all kinds of business, including game development and software in general,” he considers. “The war will leave a country that will have to start from scratch. Now there are millions of Syrian refugees outside of Syria. It’s really bad to be a refugee, and I believe a lot of refugees are ready to seize the opportunity – having learned many new things – of heading back to Syria.”

Forced displacement is no better than placing mandatory travel restrictions, of course, but in a strange, counter-intuitive way, migration from conflict could represent what freedom to travel can bring in terms of advantages.

“The war, I hope, will finish soon,” MollaMahmud repeats firmly. “Then a lot of people will come back to Syria, and help build our country from scratch. I always say that Germany after the second world war, for example, started from scratch, and they have built a very good, very beautiful, respected country. Then more of us can make successful games.”

MollaMahmud isn’t suggesting that the development of a healthy national games industry justifies a war; not at all. For one, there are more important things than the games industry to consider when a country emerges from conflict. But if Syrians can pool the experience gained through their peoples’ diaspora and establish a game industry to rival Germany’s, it would contribute a great deal to that renewal and rebuilding.

Movement of people can push technology like little else, for the benefit of everyone involved, regardless of their home or country of origin; Apple and AdMob are proof of that. War will likely exist forever, but its horror doesn’t preclude it from being used to inspire positive movements large and small.

Nobody is calling for the forced displacement of people for the benefit of the game industry, of course. But based on the enthusiasm and appetite for learning of every Without Borders developer at Unite Europe, it’s apparent that supporting thoughtful freedom to travel benefits us all.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Does Uranus Have An Odd Magnetic Field

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The planet Uranus just keeps getting weirder.

The icy gas world that strangely orbits the sun on its side may also have a wonky magnetic field that constantly flickers on and off, new research suggests.

Magnetic fields around planets, or magnetospheres, create shields against the bombardment of radiation from the sun known as solar wind. On Earth, for example, the magnetosphere lines up pretty closely with the planet’s axis of rotation, and magnetic field lines emerge from Earth’s north and south poles. On Uranus, however, the magnetosphere is a bit more chaotic.

Uranus’ spin axis is tilted by a whopping 98 degrees, and the planet’s off-center magnetic field is tilted by another 60 degrees. Every time the planet rotates (about every 17.24 hours), this lopsided magnetic field tumbles around, opening and closing periodically as the magnetic field lines disconnect and reconnect, the study found. 

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta figured this out by simulating Uranus’ messy magnetosphere using numerical models and data from NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew by the planet in 1986.

“Uranus is a geometric nightmare,” Carol Paty, an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “The magnetic field tumbles very fast, like a child cartwheeling down a hill head over heels. When the magnetized solar wind meets this tumbling field in the right way, it can reconnect, and [so] Uranus’ magnetosphere goes from open to closed to open on a daily basis.”

When the magnetosphere opens up, it allows solar particles to bombard the planet. Then, when the magnetic field lines reconnect, this natural shield can continue to block the solar wind.

This process may be related to auroras on Uranus. Just like the auroras on Earth and other planets, Uranus’ atmosphere lights up when particles from the solar wind enter it and interact with gases like nitrogen and oxygen. 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has previously observed auroras on Uranus, but astronomers face difficulties in studying how these auroras interact with the magnetosphere, because the planet is so far away — nearly 2 billion miles (3.2 billion kilometers) from Earth. The space agency is currently considering sending another spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune to investigate those planet’s magnetic fields, among other things.

Xin Cao, a Ph.D. candidate at Georgia Tech who led the study, said that studying Uranus can teach scientists a lot about planets outside of the solar system. “The majority of exoplanets [worlds outside the solar system] that have been discovered appear to also be ice giants in size,” he said. “Perhaps what we see on Uranus and Neptune is the norm for planets: very unique magnetospheres and less-aligned magnetic fields.

“Understanding how these complex magnetospheres shield exoplanets from stellar radiation is of key importance for studying the habitability of these newly discovered worlds,” Cao added.

The results of this study were published June 27 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.

Courtesy-Space

Astronomers Shed Light On Star Explosions

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

New looks at the heart of a supernova remnant are revealing clues about the deaths of massive stars and how these dramatic events affect their host galaxies, two recent studies report.

Observations made by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile allowed one research team to construct a detailed 3D map of SN 1987A — the remains of a huge star that exploded three decades ago — and another group to spot several molecules previously undetected in the supernova remnant.

“When this supernova exploded, now more than 30 years ago, astronomers knew much less about the way these events reshape interstellar space and how the hot, glowing debris from an exploded star eventually cools and produces new molecules,” Rémy Indebetouw, an astronomer at the University of Virginia and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, said in a statement.

“Thanks to ALMA, we can finally see cold ‘star dust’ as it forms, revealing important insights into the original star itself and the way supernovas create the basic building blocks of planets,” added Indebetouw, who is a co-author on both recent studies.

SN 1987A formed in the aftermath of a Type II supernova, which results when a star at least 10 times more massive than the sun runs out of fuel and ceases pushing outward against the inward pull of its own gravity. The big star’s outer parts then come crashing back on the core, sparking a mammoth explosion that can be seen from great distances.

Indeed, SN 1987A lies 163,000 light-years away, in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, and has been studied intensively by a variety of instruments since its light first reached Earth in February 1987. (The explosion actually occurred about 163,000 years ago, of course, but astronomers such as Indebetouw often refer to it happening in 1987 for simplicity’s sake.)

The supernova sent huge amounts of dust streaming into space, creating a veil that many telescopes have had trouble penetrating. And that’s where the newly reported ALMA observations come in: The radio dishes in the array can peer through the dust, revealing the structure deep within the remnant.

In one of the recent studies, scientists mapped out in 3D the abundances of many molecules that formed in the aftermath of the massive explosion (after SN 1987A had cooled sufficiently to allow this to happen). For example, the ALMA data revealed large amounts of silicon monoxide (SiO) and carbon monoxide (CO) clumping in the remnant’s heart, researchers said.

The other study team performed a molecular inventory of SN 1987A. They found a number of species, including the new detections formyl cation (HCO+) and sulfur monoxide (SO).

“These molecules had never been detected in a young supernova remnant before,” Indebetouw said. “HCO+ is especially interesting, because its formation requires particularly vigorous mixing during the explosion.”

Overall, the combined results reveal new insights about SN 1987A’s composition and how conditions within the supernova remnant have changed over time, researchers said. This information, in turn, could help astronomers better understand galactic evolution.

“The reason some galaxies have the appearance that they do today is in large part because of the supernovas that have occurred in them,” Indebetouw said. “Though less than 10 percent of stars become supernovas, they nonetheless are key to the evolution of galaxies.”

The 3D-mapping study was published last month in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and the molecular-inventory paper was published in April in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Courtesy-Space

FCC Tightens Rules Regarding ‘Robocalls’

July 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

The Federal Communications Commission intends to further attack those unwanted “robocalls” and is looking at ways to help consumers block them.

On Thursday, the commission voted unanimously to evaluate a system that would allow phone companies to check if a number calling you is legit. The goal is to deter unscrupulous companies that make these automated calls from “spoofing,” or using a fake phone number to trick you into answering their calls.

A call authentication system could help improve third-party apps that allow consumers to block these calls. It could also open the door to phone companies that may want to offer a service to block unwanted calls.

The FCC has already been considering rules that would allow phone companies to block robocalls from unassigned numbers or from numbers that don’t exist.

Ridding the world of robocalls entirely is tricky since some legitimate communications are made using automated call technology, such as messages from schools, weather alerts, public utilities or political organizations. Phone companies don’t want to block legitimate calls that consumers want to receive.

The agency also voted to consider how to prevent unwanted calls after a number has been reassigned. There is currently no way for legitimate companies to know if customers who have agreed to receive their marketing calls are still using a particular number. The FCC wants to get public comment on how phone companies should report when a phone number has been reassigned and how the data could be used.

Robocalls are a big nuisance to consumers with an estimated 2.5 billion automated calls being made per month.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said robocalls are a top consumer complaint. “Americans are mad as hell” that they still get these calls in spite of efforts by Congress and the FCC to stop them, he said. The FCC said it gets more than 200,000 complaints each year concerning unwanted calls, and the Federal Trade Commission said it received roughly 5.3 million complaints about telemarketing calls in 2016.

Pai said the FCC’s latest efforts to curb these calls could make a huge difference in the volume of robocalls consumers get.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn,agreed. She said the agency must take a “multi-pronged approach, to address this persistent problem.”

The FCC has also been stepping up its enforcement of illegal robocalls. Separately, it voted 2-1 to fine a New Mexico-based company $2.88 million for making unlawful robocalls. Last month, the FCC fined a Florida resident $120 million for allegedly making almost 100 million illegal robocalls in a three-month period.

A Re-organized AT&T To Run Wireless, Media Properties Separately

July 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

AT&T Inc plans to operate its wireless and DirecTV satellite television businesses separately from Time Warner Inc’s media assets following its $85.4 billion acquisition of the entertainment group.

Buying Time Warner gives AT&T control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets. AT&T’s post-merger plans were earlier reported by Bloomberg News.

The deal, announced in October, is seen as a bold move by the telecommunications giant to acquire content to stream over its network. AT&T hopes the programming will give it a competitive edge in a saturated wireless market. The deal also brings a wealth of user data for more targeted advertising.

The reorganization will leave AT&T executives in charge of the combined company. John Stankey, who currently leads DirecTV and other entertainment businesses, will head up the media division and John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer who oversees technology and operations, will run the wireless business, the source said.

AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson will remain chairman and CEO of the combined company after the deal closes, an AT&T spokesman said.

In an emailed statement, AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook said no decisions on an organizational structure have been finalized and that Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes were still working on them. Time Warner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bob Quinn, AT&T senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, told reporters this week that the company expects to close the merger by the end of the year. “We are just working through the process,” Quinn said, noting it also needs approvals from some international agencies and the

Are Russian Hackers Targeting Our Nuclear Sites

July 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

US nuclear facilities, their suppliers and manufacturing plants using phishing methods, US authorities have said.

Last week the US Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a joint report into recent attacks, including one on Kansas-based nuclear power station operator Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation. The report was obtained by the New York Times.

The networks of Wolf Creek and other key infrastructure companies were said to have been infiltrated. The attackers appeared to be on a reconnaissance mission, seeking to understand the workings of the networks, possibly laying the groundwork for a future assault.

The authorities blamed an “advanced persistent threat” actor for the activity, which is usually taken to mean a state-sponsored group.

However, quoting unnamed sources, the NYT says the methodology deployed by the attackers is similar to the modus operandi of the Russian group “Energetic Bear” which has been blamed for hacking energy facilities and other key targets including financial institutions since 2012.

In the recent wave of attacks, which began in May, the attackers deployed spear-phishing techniques, emailing fake CVs with a malware payload to senior control engineers authorized to access the industrial control systems. The malware was designed to harvest user credentials and passwords, the report says. Other techniques involved man-in-the-middle and watering hole attacks that are using compromised legitimate websites known to be visited frequently by the targets.

While the joint DHS-FBI report carries an ‘amber’ threat warning, the industry appears to be downplaying the seriousness of the hackers’ activities.

Nuclear Energy Institute spokesperson John Keeley said that nuclear facilities are required by law to report cyberattacks but that none of the 100 or so facilities covered by the Institute have said that their security was compromised.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement with the FBI, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said, “There is no indication of a threat to public safety, as any potential impact appears to be limited to administrative and business networks.”

The US Department of Energy also said the impact appears limited to administrative and business networks.

“Regardless of whether malicious actors attempt to exploit business networks or operational systems, we take any reports of malicious cyber activity potentially targeting our nation’s energy infrastructure seriously and respond accordingly,” a spokesperson told Bloomberg.

Courtesy-TheInq

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