Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Thrustmaster

The New Corinthian Leather?

I really do not know what happened to me, but I used to hate racing games.  I mean, really hate them.  I played old, old racing games on Atari.  I had some of the first ones available on PC.  They did not appeal to me in the least.  Instant buyer’s remorse for the most part.  Then something strange happened.  3D graphics technology changed that opinion.  Not only did hardware accelerated 3D help me get over my dislike, but the improvements in physical simulations also allowed a greater depth of experience.  Throw in getting my first force feedback device and NFS: Porsche Unleashed and I was hooked from then on out.

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The front of the box shows the lovely Ferrari 599XX supercar with the wheel in the foreground.

The itch to improve the driving experience only grows as time goes on.  More and more flashy looking titles are released, some of which actually improve upon the simulation with complex physics rewrites, all of which consume more horsepower from the CPU and GPU.  This then leads to more hardware upgrades.  The next thing a person knows they are ordering multiple monitors so they can just experience racing in Surround/Eyefinity (probably the best overall usage for the technology).

One bad thing about having a passion for something is that itch to improve the experience never goes away.  DiRT 2 inspired me to purchase my first FFB wheel, the TM Ferrari F420 model.  Several games later and my disappointment for the F420’s 270 degree steering had me pursue my next purchase which was a TX F458 Ferrari Edition racing wheel.  This featured the TX base, the stock/plastic Ferrari wheel, and the two pedal set.  This was a tremendous upgrade from the older TM F420 and the improvement to 900 degrees of rotation and far better FFB effects was tremendous.  Not only that, but the TX platform could be upgradeable.  The gate leading to madness was now open.

The TX base can fit a variety of 2 and 3 pedal systems, but the big push is towards the actual wheel itself.  Thrustmaster has several products that fit the base that feature a materials such as plastic, rubber, and leather.  These products go from $120 on up to around $150.  These are comprised of three GT style wheels and one F1 wheel.  All of them look pretty interesting and are a big step up from the bundled F458 replica that comes standard with the TX set.

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The rear shows the rim itself at actual size.

I honestly had not thought about upgrading to any of these units as I was pleased with the feel and performance of the stock wheel.  It seemed to have fit my needs.  Then it happened.  Thrustmaster announced the Ferrari 599XX EVO wheel with honest-to-goodness Alcantara ™ construction.  The more I read about this wheel, the more I wanted it.  The only problem in my mind is that it is priced at a rather dramatic $179.  I had purchased the entire TX F458 setup on sale for only $280 some months before!  Was the purchase of the 599XX worth it?  Would it dramatically change my gaming experience?  I guess there is only one way to find out.  I hid the credit card statement and told my wife, “Hey, look what I got in for review!”

Click here to read the entire Thrusmaster 599XX EVO Alcantara Edition Wheel Review!

Razer Announces BlackWidow X Tournament Edition

Subject: General Tech | July 5, 2016 - 05:45 PM |
Tagged: razer, mechanical keyboard, Cherry MX

Well this is interesting. Razer has announced the BlackWidow X Tournament Edition, which is a new tenkeyless mechanical keyboard that uses Cherry MX Blue switches. This is interesting, because it does not use Razer's own switches -- not even as a customization (like the BlackWidow X Ultimate). You must use Cherry MX Blue. It's an interesting change, and I'm not sure why they did that, but they did.

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Beyond that, it's a fairly standard keyboard. It doesn't have a number pad, but it does have a button to record macros on it. I personally do not like those ever since my original Razer BlackWidow. I would accidentally press the button, not realize it, then have everything I typed get spammed out for the next half hour, including passwords. I would assume Razer has fixed that issue in the last four-or-so years, but I haven't used their keyboards in a while. There might have even been an option to prevent it back then, but I never found it. Also, for some, a macro button is probably a nice feature, seeing as they've consistently included it.

The talk about Cherry Switches and Macro Keys aside, the keyboard seems like a pretty decent value. The Razer BlackWidow X Tournament Edition costs $69.99 and ships next week.

Source: Razer

Xbox Play Anywhere Has Been Formalized

Subject: General Tech | July 5, 2016 - 05:18 PM |
Tagged: xbox, windows 10, microsoft

Microsoft is launching Xbox Play Anywhere this fall, which allows games that are purchased on Xbox Store and Windows Store to be available on the other for no additional cost.

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To our site, this means that these games will also be available on Windows 10. Moreover, Microsoft has announced that “every new title published from Microsoft Studios will support Xbox Play Anywhere and will be easily accessible in the Windows Store.” So this means that, starting with Re-Core, Microsoft should publish all of their games on the PC.

Update (July 6th @ 3:33pm EDT): Turns out that it was updated to clarify "at this year's E3". So the list of games on XboxPlayAnywhere is all they're announcing so far.

That said, it will all be done through Windows Store, and so we'll need to remain concerned about the openness of that platform. The obvious example is when Games for Windows Live was shut down, bricking all software that the developer didn't patch out (or patch over to Steam). There's also concern about people being able to distribute software independently and anonymously as well.

That said, Microsoft is free to publish their own software however they like, and it's nice to see them supporting the PC again. I just want to make sure a strong, alternative platform exists (like Win32 or a strong Web standard) that cannot be (legally or technically) pivoted into Windows RT (or iOS), which forced all browsers to be re-skins of Internet Explorer (or Safari in iOS's case), forced content guidelines on games, etc. Someone will abuse any restrictions that are made, now or in the future.

Yes, some of your users phones are infected

Subject: General Tech | July 5, 2016 - 12:32 PM |
Tagged: security, Malware

Managing mobile devices in an enterprise environment is a nightmare, even with properly set up security polices and some sort of Mobile Device Manager.  Security firm Skycure recently estimated one in every 200 devices is infected with some form of malware, which seems a bit low especially considering that some the devices tested had 290 apps installed.  Infections of Android devices are most common but do not think for a moment that your iOS device is safe, it may only be half as likely to be compromised but it does indeed have serious vulnerabilities as well.  Drop by The Register for a look at the numbers of bad apps on various stores.

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"Researchers found enterprises have three unique infection instances with devices sporting an eye-watering average of 290 apps a piece."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

The 8-Bit Guy (and Friends) on Cassette Tapes for PCs

Subject: General Tech, Storage | July 5, 2016 - 02:52 AM |
Tagged: cassette, tape

Some old PCs didn't have storage, so users needed to add programs manually by typing in the source code. As The 8-Bit Guy explains, one of the first consumer solutions was to attach a cassette tape to the computer through analog audio cables. They would actually be programmed by pulsing electrical intensities, which would be interpreted as binary data, within the audio range. Near the end, he even plays a clip of normal data, and “fast loader” data.

He, and his co-hosts, talk about their experiences with the medium, such as using a two-deck cassette player to copy programs and share them with friends. It doesn't go too deep into the technology or the time period, unlike some of his previous videos, but it's still entertaining none-the-less.

More Examples of Why AV Software Can Be Bad

Subject: General Tech | July 5, 2016 - 02:13 AM |
Tagged: symantec, security

I know that I've mention this in the past, and I'm not advocating running no antivirus software, but it's good to remember that you're using high-privileged software to load untrusted data. While mistakes can happen in any reasonably complex software, some companies are more complacent than others, and some design choices fail to respect the trust you have in them. Symantec, as far as I know, has one of the better reputations of security companies, but this flaw is terrible.

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Basically, to detect malware that has been obfuscated by executable compression, antivirus software unpacks it themselves and looks. Symantec's solution runs in the kernel, allowing any malware that targets it to have kernel permissions. They were also using “at least” seven-year-old forks of open source libraries. Well... crap.

The bugs have been privately disclosed to Symantec, and fixed before Google went public. If you have any Symantec, or their consumer brand, Norton, software, then make sure it's up to date. Consumer software will have the fix pushed through LiveUpdate, but some some products, like Symantec Endpoint Protection and Symantec Protection for SharePoint Servers might require administrator action.

Source: Google

Your encrypted Android phone's Keymaster will settle for anyone, not just Sigourney

Subject: General Tech | July 4, 2016 - 01:08 PM |
Tagged: andriod, keymaster, qualcomm, snapdragon, encryption

The only good news about this particular decryption hack requires physical access to your phone and as you should be aware once someone has your device in their hands all bets about security are off.  The vulnerability exists on ARM-compatible Snapdragon system-on-chips and the TrustZone, a secure part of the chip which runs outside of the operating system and passes information pertaining to the encryption on your phone via the Qualcomm Secure Execution Environment.

It is possible to to exploit an Android kernel security vulnerability to load your own QSEE application which can then query the TrustZone for your unencrypted blob and RSA key.  From there it is simply a matter of brute forcing the phones PIN or password which then allows you access to all the encrypted data on the device.  The Register explains not only the vulnerability but also how TrustZone and KeyMaster work on your devices in this article.

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"Essentially, if someone seizes your Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered phone, they can potentially decrypt its file system's contents with a friendly Python script without knowing your password or PIN."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Microsoft Will Still Be More Polite... But First...

Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2016 - 10:38 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

So, despite announcing that they will reskin the Get Windows 10 notification four days ago, Microsoft will release another annoying Get Windows 10 campaign. Based on what looks like a Windows 8.x modern, full-screen prompt, Microsoft will post “Sorry to interrupt, but this is important. Windows 10 free upgrade offer ends July 29th.” It then has two buttons, Upgrade now and Remind me later, and two links, Notify me three more times and Do not notify me again.

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It's interesting to see that this prompt looks like Windows 8.x, but will also appear on Windows 7 machines. It will probably be very jarring to a Windows 7 user to see the entire screen turn a slightly purple-ish blue in a UI style that you've never seen before, asking you to essentially flip your PC upside down. I would expect them to customize it for each platform, but meh.

Interestingly, Microsoft also lists the conditions that will prevent this prompt from occurring. If you have already tried Windows 10 on the machine, it will not ask you to upgrade back. This is what I would have expected all of Get Windows 10 to do, but, from experience, previous prompts didn't care if you already tried (and even activated) Windows 10. No, it would ask you again to go back. It will also honor all the other ways that you can disable Get Windows 10. They also say it will not appear if “You have a recent version of the Get Windows 10 app installed.” This confuses me, but I'll leave it here regardless.

Anywho, prepare to be annoyed one last time... or not. I don't know.

Source: Microsoft

HTC Vive Currently Dominating Oculus Sales

Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2016 - 09:21 PM |
Tagged: valve, htc, steam, steamvr, vive, Oculus, oculus rift

Thanks to Keith of WCCFTech for tweeting this out.

According to the Steam Hardware Survey, the HTC Vive is dominating the Oculus Rift by more than a factor of two (0.15% to 0.06%). More-so, its rate of change is also double that of Oculus (0.06% to 0.03%). If these numbers are accurate, this means that the SteamVR is massively overtaking Oculus SDK in terms of both amount and rate of change.

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Now the questions are “why?” and “what does that mean?”

The most obvious reason, to me, is that HTC has much better availability than Oculus. For the last month, they announced that the Vive ships within two-to-three business days. If you look at Oculus? The website tells you to expect it in August. It is currently the second day of July. While a month is not too long of a time to wait, it would make sense that a consumer would look at the two options and say “Yeah, the this week one, please.”

If that's the case, then the platform battle could be decided simply by retail availability. It wouldn't be decided by a Valve-developed first-party game. It wouldn't be decided by DRM locking games into an exclusive deal. It would simply be decided by “you can buy this one”. That is, unless Oculus ramps up production soon. At that point, we'll need to look back at hardware surveys (not just Steam's) and see what the split is. They could catch up. They could be left behind. Who knows? It could be another factor altogether.

For now, the Vive seems like it's the crowd favorite.

Steam Hardware Survey Shows Drop for Linux

Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2016 - 02:21 AM |
Tagged: valve, steam, linux

The current split of Steam users, according to the Steam Hardware Survey, is 95.5% for Windows, 3.6% for Mac OSX, and 0.8% for Linux. Phoronix reports that this does not count SteamOS, and there might be other “inaccuracies” with the survey, but the Linux figures are 0.04% less than they were before (a relative drop of about 4.8%).

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Windows users are up, and Mac OSX is flat.

A 4.8% drop in a month isn't promising, but it's also not too concerning. If you were intending to target a platform with 0.8% marketshare, then you can benefit from the long shelf life that Linux provides. It's not like a publisher is counting on that platform to reach two-week launch window sales figures. We'll see if the pendulum will swing back in the future, especially if Valve creates compelling, new, first-party content for Linux. They seem to be waiting to put their full weight behind it.