BOINC on your phone?

Subject: General Tech | February 16, 2017 - 07:24 PM |
Tagged: boinc, fast radio bursts

If you are not familiar with the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Networked Computing, aka BOINC, then hopefully it is because you devote your spare processing power to Folding@Home.  If you are still unfamiliar, it is a way to divvy up huge data sets and associated calculations to numerous local clients, install by volunteers who are willing to donate spare processing cycles; the most famous is SETI@Home.

The story at the The Register describes something similar, though instead of performing the calculations, you would capture the data.  The idea is to utilize the radio receivers in mobile devices and software defined radio kits to capture the mysterious fast radio bursts that astronomers have detected emanating from far off galaxies.  The researchers have a lot of work ahead of them as the 1GHz signals can be swamped by terrestrial sources and the periodicity of the signals is not clear.  It will be interesting to watch how this project unfolds.

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"Friends, take out your mobiles in the name of science! Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are trying to look for fast radio bursts in the Milky Way galaxy with “low-cost radio receivers.” And by that, they mean, your smartphones."

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Source: The Register

What's so bright about the Genius Scorpion M8-610?

Subject: General Tech | February 15, 2017 - 09:00 PM |
Tagged: input, genius, scorpion M8-610, gaming mouse, ambidextrous

The symmetrical design of the Genius Scorpion M8-610 will ensure comfort no matter what your chirality is, something that is seemingly more uncommon in gaming mice these days.  The Avago ADNS-9800 laser sensor can provide between 800 to 8200 DPI and all the buttons are Omron D2FC-F-7N, not bad for a mouse that runs less than $40.  Modders Inc took a look at the mouse and the software suite which accompanies it in their latest review; take a look at what they thought right here.

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"While it is easy to get lured by fancy colors and flashy design when looking for a gaming mouse, it always comes down to functional consistency above all else. Aside from the keyboard, the mouse allows users to communicate with the computer and to the wider world online."

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Source: Modders Inc

50GB of high resolution Fallout, finally a use for that 8GB of VRAM?

Subject: General Tech | February 15, 2017 - 07:33 PM |
Tagged: gaming, fallout 4

[H]ard|OCP took a look into the effect on performance the gigantic high resolution texture pack has on system performance in their latest article.  For those who want the answer immediately, the largest amount of VRAM they saw utilized was a hair over 5GB, in most cases more than double the usage that the default textures use.  This certainly suggests that those with 4GB cards should reconsider installing the texture pack and that a 6GB card shouldn't see performance impacts.  As for the performance deltas, well we can't provide spoilers for their entire review!

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"Bethesda has released its official High Resolution Texture Pack DLC for Fallout 4. We will look at performance impact, VRAM capacity usage levels, and compare image quality to see if this High Resolution Texture Pack might be worthy of your bandwidth in actually improving the gameplay experience."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Vulkan is not extinct, in fact it might be about to erupt

Subject: General Tech | February 15, 2017 - 06:29 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, Intel, Intel Skylake, kaby lake

The open source API, Vulkan, just received a big birthday present from Intel as they added official support on their Skylake and Kaby Lake CPUs under Windows 10.  We have seen adoption of this API from a number of game engine designers, Unreal Engine and Unity have both embraced it, the latest DOOM release was updated to support Vulkan and there is even a Nintendo 64 renderer which runs on it.  Ars Technica points out that both AMD and NVIDIA have been supporting this API for a while and that we can expect to see Android implementations of this close to the metal solution in the near future.

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"After months in beta, Intel's latest driver for its integrated GPUs (version 15.45.14.4590) adds support for the low-overhead Vulkan API for recent GPUs running in Windows 10. The driver supports HD and Iris 500- and 600-series GPUs, the ones that ship with 6th- and 7th-generation Skylake and Kaby Lake processors."

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Source: Ars Technica

Amazon Chimes in with a videoconferencing solution that is primed to take on the big players

Subject: General Tech | February 14, 2017 - 06:39 PM |
Tagged: amazon, chime, videoconferencing

If there is one thing we are short on, it is incompatible videoconferencing applications to use and support.  Obviously this is why Amazon purchased Biba and has now leaped into the fray to provide Chime, a truly unique service which will transmit your voice and video over the internet in something called a conference.  Sarcasm aside, Amazon Web Services have proven that they provide a solid set of services, which will be the backbone of the new app.  Those who have struggled with Adobe's offering or tried to have a meeting during many of the outage periods which plague various other providers might want to take a look.

The basic service is free, Plus allows screen sharing and access to corporate directories for $2.50 per user a month and the Pro version runs $15, allowing up to 100 people in a video call as well as the all important personalized URL.  Pop by Slashdot if you so desire.

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"Amazon has released new service to make voice and video calls and share screen. Called Chime, the service is aimed at business users. It directly competes with well-known players such as Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Cisco's WebEx, among others."

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Source: Slashdot

Clearing storage newsblasts from cache

Subject: General Tech | February 13, 2017 - 05:59 PM |
Tagged: acronis, caringo, Cisco, fujitsu, Intel, mimecast

The Register received more than a few tidbits of news from a wide array of storage companies, which they have condensed in this post.  Acronis have released new versions of their Backup suite and True Image, with the Backup suite now able to capture Office 365 mailboxes.  Cisco have released a product which allows you to have your onsite cloud run like Azure while Fujitsu announced their mid-range ETERNUS AF650 all-flash array.  Intel have updated their implementation of the open source Lustre parallel file system for supercomputers and several companies released earning data, though Mimecast wished their news was better.

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"Incoming! Boom, boom and boom again – storage news announcements hit the wires in a relentless barrage. Here's a few we've received showing developments in data protection, cloud storage, hyper-converged storage, the dregs of flash memory and more."

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Source: The Register

Blender Foundation Releases 2.78b... for Performance!

Subject: General Tech | February 9, 2017 - 10:03 PM |
Tagged: Blender

It has been a few months since the release of 2.78, and the Blender Foundation has been sitting on a bunch of performance enhancements in that time. Since 2.79 is still a couple of months off, they decided to “cherry pick” a bunch of them back into the 2.78 branch and push out an update to it. Most of these updates are things like multi-threading their shader compiler for Cycles, speeding up motion blur in Cycles, and reducing “fireflies” in Cycles renders, which indirectly helps performance by requiring less light samples to average out the noise.

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I tried running two frames from different scenes of my upcoming PC enthusiast explanation video. While they’re fairly light, motion graphics sequences, they both use a little bit of motion blur (~half of a 60 Hz frame of integration) and one of the two frames is in the middle of three objects with volumetric absorption that are moving quite fast.

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The "easier" scene to render.

When disabling my GTX 670, and only using my GTX 1080, the easier scene went from 9.96s in 2.78a to 9.99s in 2.78b. The harsher scene, with volumetric absorption and a big streak of motion blur, went from 36.4s in 2.78a to 36.31s in 2.78b. My typical render settings include a fairly high sample count, though, so it’s possible that I could get away with less and save time that way.

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The "harsher" scene to render.

Blender is currently working on Agent 327, which is an upcoming animated feature film. Typically, these movies guide development of the project, so it makes sense that my little one-person motion graphics won’t have the complexity to show the huge optimizations that they’re targeting. Also, I had a lot of other programs running, which is known to make a significant difference in render time, although they were doing the same things between runs. No browser tabs were opened or closed, the same videos were running on other monitors while 2.78a and 2.78b were working, etc. But yeah, it's not a bulletproof benchmark by any means.

Also, some of the optimizations solve bugs with Intel’s CPU implementation as well as increase the use of SSE 4.1+ and AVX2. Unfortunately for AMD, these were pushed up right before the launch of Ryzen, and Blender with Cycles has been one of their go-to benchmarks for multi-threaded performance. While this won’t hurt AMD any more than typical version-to-version variations, it should give a last-minute boost to their competitors on AMD’s home turf.

Blender 2.78b is available today, free as always, at their website.

Have you ever noticed how popular June 21, 2006 is?

Subject: General Tech | February 9, 2017 - 06:51 PM |
Tagged: workaround, microsoft

Have you ever noticed how many drivers on your system are dated June 21st, 2006?  If not, pop open device manager and take a look at some of your devices which don't use a driver directly from the manufacturer.  Slashdot posted a link to the inimitable Raymond Chen who explains exactly why so many of your drivers bear that date.  The short version is that this is a workaround which prevents newer Microsoft drivers from overwriting manufacturer's drivers by ensuring the date stamp on the Microsoft driver will never have a more recent date.  This is especially important for laptop users as even the simple chipset drivers will be supplied by the manufacturer.  For instance this processor is old, but not that old!

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"When the system looks for a driver to use for a particular piece of hardware, it ranks them according to various criteria. If a driver provides a perfect match to the hardware ID, then it becomes a top candidate. And if more than one driver provides a perfect match, then the one with the most recent timestamp is chosen."

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Source: Slashdot

WebKit Proposal for WebGPU

Subject: General Tech | February 9, 2017 - 03:46 AM |
Tagged: webkit, webgpu, metal, vulkan, webgl

Apple’s WebKit team has just announced their proposal for WebGPU, which competes with WebGL to provide graphics and GPU compute to websites. Being from Apple, it is based on the Metal API, so it has a lot of potential, especially as a Web graphics API.

Okay, so I have mixed feelings about this announcement.

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First, and most concerning, is that Apple has attempted to legally block open standards in the past. For instance, when The Khronos Group created WebCL based on OpenCL, which Apple owns the trademark and several patents to, Apple shut the door on extending their licensing agreement to the new standard. If the W3C considers Apple’s proposal, they should be really careful about what legal control they allow Apple to retain.

From a functionality standpoint, this is very interesting, though. With the aforementioned death of WebCL, as well as the sluggish progress of WebGL Compute Shaders, there’s a lot of room to use one (or more) GPUs in a system for high-end compute tasks. Even if you are not interested in gaming on a web browser, although many people are, especially if you count the market that Adobe Flash dominated for the last ten years, you might want to GPU-accelerate photo and video tasks. Having an API that allows for this would be very helpful going forward, although, as stated, others are working on it, like The Khronos Group with WebGL compute shaders. On the other-other hand, an API that allows explicit multi-GPU would be even more interesting.

Further, it sounds like they’re even intending to ingest byte-code, like what DirectX 12 and Vulkan are doing with DXIL and SPIR-V, respectively, but it currently accepts shader code as a string and compiles it in the driver. This is interesting from a security standpoint, because it obfuscates what GPU-executed code consists of, but that’s up to the graphics and browser vendors to figure out... for now.

So when will we see it? No idea! There’s an experimental WebKit patch, which requires the Metal API, and an API proposal... a couple blog posts... a tweet or two... and that’s about it.

So what do you think? Does the API sound interesting? Does Apple’s involvement scare you? Or does getting scared about Apple’s involvement annoy you? Comment away! : D

Source: WebKit

A peek at The Bard’s Tale 4

Subject: General Tech | February 8, 2017 - 07:24 PM |
Tagged: gaming, bards tale, inxile

inXile have been very busy recently, doing a stellar job at resurrecting Wasteland into a new, modern RPG which is soon to see its third incarnation released.  The long anticipated Torment: Tides of Numenara arrives at the end of this month, the beta has been a tantalizing taste as was the YouTube 'choose your own adventure' teaser.  There is another project they have been working on, bringing the old Bard's Tale gaming into the modern era.  A trailer showing in-game footage, including combat has just been release which you can see over at Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN.  It certainly doesn't look like the Bard's Tale of old!

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"On the game HUD, you can see your party occupying 2 rows of 4 spaces each. Enemies will line up on the opposite grid with the same number of slots. The exact positioning of enemies, as well as your own party, will determine which attacks can land, and which will swing wild past their mark."

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