Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2016 - 11:15 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: skyrim, morrowind, elder scrolls, bethesda
TESRenewal Project is basically about taking earlier Elder Scrolls titles and bringing them to newer engines. Three mods are under the control at the moment: Skywind, which puts Morrowind into Skyrim; Skyblivion, which puts Oblivion into Skyrim; and Morroblivion, which puts Morrowind into Oblivion. Morroblivion is already out in the wild, with the latest release dating back to November, 2014, but the other two are being worked on behind closed doors.
They have now released a small update teaser video (above) -- less than two minutes long -- that shows off various environments (and the assets in them). Obviously, at this point, Skyrim is fairly old. It was released almost five years ago, and it still runs on DirectX 9. It is still very popular though, and what we can see from the trailer looks at least as good as Bethesda's default content.
Skywind will be a non-commercial mod, although it will require both Skyrim, Morrowind, and their expansions (except Hearthfire) to play -- even though it doesn't use any Morrowind assets. This may or may not be a Bethesda requirement; they tend to be quite restrictive with their copyrights and trademarks. (The Mod Workshop payment issue, the Scrolls trademark issue, and the Fallout-posters fan site trademark issue all jump to mind.)
Either way, it will be free if you own both titles, and it looks like an interesting total conversion.
Subject: General Tech | June 6, 2016 - 07:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows, pc gaming, osx, linux
The next week-and-a-half should be good for video game enthusiasts. E3 2016 starts on June 14th, although EA, Bethesda, Microsoft, Ubisoft, Sony, and AMD (with PCGamer) have press conferences throughout the 12th and the 13th. Of course, not to get lost in the traffic, many entities are releasing their announcements prior to those conferences. For instance, Watch Dogs 2 will have a reveal on this Wednesday, June 8th, five days prior to Ubisoft's press conference.
This post is about a Kickstarter project called Yooka-Laylee, though. This title is being created by Playtonic Games, which contains several past employees of Rare, apparently to create a proper Banjo-Kazooie-style platform title. It raised over two million British Pounds (~3 million USD) and targeted an October 2016 release date. That has since slipped to Q1 2017, but that should be expected for a crowdfunding project, especially when the stretch goals start piling up. It is scheduled to be released on Windows, Mac, and Linux... and a few other boxes.
Of course, they couldn't resist making a Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts joke at the end...
... I chuckled.
Introduction and Unboxing
A few years ago, Ryan reviewed the Couchmaster. It was a simple keyboard and mouse holder that suspended those parts above your lap, much like a computer chair, but at your couch. It was a cool concept, but at the time, living room PC gaming hadn't gained much popularity. While we don't all suddenly have living room PCs, the concept has gained some steam. We've seen recent launches of devices like the Corsair Bulldog - a rather beefy DIY living room PC meant to handle enough hardware to support living room gaming at up to 4K resolutions. This left a bit of a gap in Corsair's lineup. They make keyboards, mice, and now a living room PC, but where do you put those peripherals while sitting on your couch? Enter the Corsair Lapdog:
Above is the setup process staged with the keyboard and mouse plugged into the integrated 4-port USB 3.0 hub. Note that we did not need to plug in both keyboard connectors as there is no need to use the USB pass-through feature of these keyboards as the mouse gets its own dedicated port. Owners of the older K70 RGBs might note that even though the early models did not come with a pass-through port, they still had an additional connector for additional USB current. Fear not, as the second plug of those keyboards is also not needed here since the Lapdog uses a powered USB 3.0 hub that can provide sufficient current to light up those models over that single connector.
The cable that combines both power and USB connection from the Lapdog to the wall/PC is 16 feet long, which should provide plenty of space to stretch between just about any TV + couch combination. It was a great idea by Corsair to combine the USB cable and power cable in this way, minimizing the mess and cable clutter that reaches across the floor. You get another 5 feet or so of length for the 12V power adapater as well, so install should be a breeze for users.
Here we see the removable block-off plate. This comes pre-installed in case the user intends to use a K65 (short-body) keyboard. For those cases, the plate keeps the surface flush while covering the area normally used by the number pad. We are installing a K70 model and will be removing the plate for our configuration.
In case you're wondering how to remove the various cover plates and mouse pad in order to complete the installation, there is a mini hex driver built-in to the back of the foam lap pad.
Looking at the bottom of the Lapdog keyboard/mouse housing, we see six magnets that mate with the appropriate places on the bottom of the foam lap pad. The pad is made of cloth covered polyurethane foam. It does not appear to be memory foam and is fairly rigid, which is desirable as we need to keep the keyboard and mouse on a reasonably firm surface when using it on a lap.
On the right edge of the Lapdog we have rear ports for power and USB 3.0 back to the PC, and on the side, we have another pair of USB 3.0 ports off of the internal powered hub. This lets you do other cool stuff like plugging in portable USB storage or even connecting and charging your phone.
With the build complete, I'd just like to comment on how seamlessly the corsair keyboards blend with the rest of the Lapdog. The anodized brushed aluminum is a perfect match, though it does add some weight to the completed product. There is a slight lip at the bottom and right edges of the mouse pad which keep it from sliding off when not in use.
After setup, I spent some quality time with the Lapdog. In gaming, it definitely works as advertised. With the device on your lap, WASD + mouse gaming is essentially where your hands naturally rest with the default positioning, making gaming just about the same as doing so on a desktop. The lap pad design helps to keep it from sliding around on your lap while in use, and the overall bulk and heft of the unit keep it firmly planted on your lap. It is not overly heavy, and I feel that going any lighter would negatively impact stability.
I also tried some actual writing on the Lapdog (I used it to write this article). While the typical gaming position is natural when centered, the left offset of the keyboard means that any serious typing requires you to scoot everything over to the right. The keyboard side is heavier than the mousing side, so there are no tipping issues when doing so. Even if you were to place the center of the Lapdog over your right leg, centering the keyboard on your lap, its weight will still keep the Lapdog planted on your left, so no issues there. Long periods of typing may put a strain on your back if you tend to lean forward off of the front edge of your couch, but the Lapdog is really meant to be a 'lay back' experience, and extended typing is certainly doable in that position with a bit of practice.
The Corsair Lapdog is available for $119.99, which I feel is a fair price given the high-grade components and solid build quality. If you're into PC gaming from the comfort of your couch, the Corsair Lapdog looks to be the best solution your you!
Subject: General Tech | June 6, 2016 - 06:26 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: asus, bloatware, security
After last week when several laptop OEMs, including Lenovo once again, were caught installing highly insecure bloatware on their laptop you might hope that this week would be different. Sadly you would be mistaken as once again software preinstalled on laptops is in the news. In this case it is ASUS Live Update which transmits requests for updates in plain text and does not check any software updates which come back for authenticity. This of course leaves you wide open for man in the middle attacks, where someone posing as those update servers could feed you whatever installation files they desired. As the pull quote from The Inquirer below states, removing it immediately would be a very good idea.
"My advice to anyone who purchased an Asus device: remove LiveUpdate. It's really that simple. If you're an IT administrator, find devices making periodic calls to Asus's domains and blackhole them, get the user to come and see you,"
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Siemens Now Commands An Army Of Spider Robots @ Slashdot
- Quieting Scary Web Browser SSL Alerts @ Linux.com
- Microsoft thinks it's fixed Windows Server mess its last fix 'fixed' @ The Register
- AMD Technologies Revealed at Computex 2016 @ Tech ARP
- Computex 2016 Live Coverage Day 5 @ Tech ARP
- Computex 2016 Live Coverage Day 4 @ Tech ARP
Subject: General Tech | June 6, 2016 - 11:46 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: steam, pc gaming, linux
According to Phoronix, gaming on Linux has experienced exponential growth in recent times. Over the course of the last two years, Steam's catalog on the platform expanded from 500 games up to over 2200. This is a little over a 4.4x increase over two years. If I'm doing my high-school math correctly, and I seriously hope I am, this corresponds to an average increase of just under 2.1x year-over-year.
In other words, this is litearlly the trend, minus half-life. Snicker snicker snicker.
The quantity of Linux's games catalog is a very different argument from its quality, of course. Still, you can find many interesting titles there. Valve has been porting their catalog to the OS, as have other, high-end titles, like Tomb Raider, Trine, Civilization V, Civilization: Beyond Earth, XCOM, and a couple Borderlands versions. If interested in specifics, and you enjoy a sense of humor like you would see on our PC Perspective Podcast, check out LinuxGameCast for their reviews of specific titles.
Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2016 - 06:18 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: security, Cyber Security, coil whine
As new hardware launches, many readers ask whether they produce any noticeable form of coil whine. For instance, this is an issue for graphics cards that are outputting a very high frame rate. The electronics create sound from the current oscillating as it flows through them. It can also be an issue for motherboards or power supplies as well. You can check out this fairly old video from LinusTechTips for a demonstration.
Image Credit: ACM
It turns out that, because this whine is related to the signal flowing through the oscillating circuit, security researchers are looking into the types of information that can be inferred from the whine. In particular, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) published a paper called Physical Key Extraction Attacks on PCs. It discusses several methods of attacking a device, such as reading minor fluctuations in its grounding plug or monitoring induced radiation with an antenna. Its headlining method is “Acoustic” though, which listens to coil whine sound produced by the computer, as it decrypts RSA messages that are sent to it, to gather the RSA secret key from it.
While they have successfully demonstrated the attack using a parabolic microphone at 33ft away, and a second demonstration using a mobile phone at 1ft away, the news should be taken with a grain of salt. Mostly, it's just interesting to realize that there's nothing really special about a computer. All it does is stores and processes data on whatever physical state we have available in the world. Currently, that's almost always radio-frequency radiation flowing through semiconductors. Whatever we use will have consequences. For instance, as transistors get smaller, to push more complex signals through a given surface area and power, we'll eventually run out of atoms.
This is just another, often forgotten side-effect: electric signals induce the transfer of energy. It could be electromagnetic, acoustic, or even thermal. In the realm of security, this could, itself, carry some of the data that we attached to our world's state, and allow others to access it (or sometimes modify it) without our knowledge or consent.
Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2016 - 07:44 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, The Witcher 3
The Witcher 3 is one of the best looking games available, and its final DLC, Blood and Wine, intended to raise that graphical bar slightly. Near the base game's initial launch, in early 2015, there was a bit of a controversy surrounding the image quality and how it sort-of rolled back. Righting this issue was apparently one of the design goals for this final DLC, leaving users with fonder memories of the title before CD Projekt Red moves onto newer projects. Granted, the memories weren't all that bad to begin with, but it was nice to address regardless.
As you can see, this environment is bright, vibrant, and heavily saturated with color. The medieval city is alive with colored cobblestone, flowers, banners, and buildings all under a bright, blue sky. There was quite a bit of texture pop-in that I saw, even at 1080p, but it wasn't too distracting. This, again, is supposed to be the last time that CD Projekt adds substantial content to The Witcher franchise for the foreseeable future, but I hope that the mod community will keep the title alive.
Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2016 - 02:55 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, uwp, Adobe
So a company, who refuses to port its applications to Linux, is experimenting with UWP for future products. Adobe's Experience Design (XD) CC is going to arrive on Windows later this year, and a representative from Adobe claimed on Twitter that it will use Microsoft's UWP platform. Granted, we're not talking about something like Photoshop or After Effects, but rather a UX mock-up tool, sort-of along the lines of Pencil Project.
It's unclear whether UWP will be a choice.
The logo looks like it's laughing at us with its tongue out.
I still find UWP a concern as Microsoft, while responding to some feedback, still has some key restrictions in play that limit free sharing. Until it becomes technically (or legally) unfeasible for Microsoft to lock down the platform, there will always be the concern that they could, for instance, revoke people's ability to develop software or remove (or prevent installation) of existing software. Even if they don't want to do it themselves, someone with authority over them may just compel it, such as a government who is against encryption.
If you build it, someone will abuse it. The only thing preventing Microsoft from realizing their Windows RT vision, if they still choose to, is the popularity of Win32 applications and how incompatible they are with that framework. We, as a society, want them to remain popular enough that Microsoft cannot afford to abandon it. They want to. They hate the stigma that Windows is where viruses are. That's reasonable, but they're not just throwing out the bathwater.
As an aside: they also want a platform that is less reliant upon x86, and could be recompiled for other hardware if Intel doesn't go where Microsoft wants to be. This is kind-of ironic if you think about it.
Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2016 - 01:29 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Java, lwjgl, vulkan
Don't be confused by the date on the LWJGL post -- its release date was June 3rd, as mentioned later in the thread, not February 27th. It looks like they disabled edit timestamps. Regardless, Lightweight Java Game Library (LWJGL) 3.0.0 was just released, which is a library that binds Java code to APIs that are, normally, not directly accessible through that platform.
To be clear: LWJGL is not a library like, say, Qt, which simplifies common tasks into classes. Its goal is to connect you to whatever API you need, and otherwise leave you alone. Unless you're the type who wants full control over everything, or you're actually making a framework yourself, you will want to use existing frameworks, engines, and/or middleware for your projects. The advantage, of course, is that these frameworks, engines, and middleware now have access to newer APIs, and can justify deprecating old features.
This release adds Vulkan support, which will provide a high-performance (and high-efficiency) base to abstract many other graphics and GPU compute tasks on. DirectX 12 and Vulkan are still being worked on, as an industry, but its mechanism is theoretically better, especially with multiple threads (and multiple graphics devices). They basically add a graphics layer to a GPU compute-style API, basing everything on lists of commands that start and end wherever the host code desires.
While Java has been taking a massive hit in public opinion lately, it is still a good platform for some applications. Gaming seems to having a resurgence of native APIs, especially with “AAA” engines becoming available to the general public, but more frameworks isn't a bad thing.
Subject: General Tech | June 4, 2016 - 07:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nes, the witness, the wit.nes, pc gaming
The Witness, from Thekla Inc. and Jonathan Blow, caught the attention of a few of us at PC Perspective... mostly Allyn. Anywho, it's based on an island that you explore and solve puzzles along the way. I'm not talking about puzzles in the “Space Quest”, point-and-click adventure sense, but like, puzzles that you would expect to find in a newspaper, which unlock doors and turn on machinery when solved.
If that sort of game is for you, then you might want to check out a “demake” of it, called The Wit.nes. It is created by an indie developer who goes by the name Dustmop, for NES emulators. Being a game that's based on the NES platform, the entire virtual ROM is currently 40KB. (NES titles varied between ~8kB and ~1MB). It plays from a top-down perspective in its exploration mode, rather than first-person for what should be obvious reasons, but the puzzles are apparently quite faithful to the original style.
It's free and small, so check it out at their Itch.io page if you're interested.