Diamonds are forever, make the memory last

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2016 - 06:59 PM |
Tagged: long term storage, nitrogen vacancy, diamond

Atomic impurities in diamonds, specifically negatively charged nitrogen vacancy centres in those diamonds, could be used for extremely long term storage.  Researchers have used optical microscopy to read, write and reset the charge state and spin properties of those defects.  This would mean that you could store data, in three dimensions, within these diamonds almost perpetually.  There is one drawback, as the storage medium uses light, similar to a Blue-Ray or other optical media, exposure to light can degrade the storage over time.  You can read more about this over at Nanotechweb.

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"The nitrogen vacancy (NV) centre can be used for long-term information storage. So say researchers at City University of New York–City College of New York who have used optical microscopy to read, write and reset information in a diamond crystal defect."

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Source: Nanotechweb

A Few "Sneak Peeks" at Adobe MAX 2016

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2016 - 08:00 AM |
Tagged: voco, stylit, premiere pro, clovervr, audition, Adobe

At their annual MAX show, Adobe hosts a keynote called “Sneak Peeks”. Some of theses contain segments that are jaw-dropping. For instance, there was an experimental plug-in at Adobe MAX 2011 that analyzed how a camera moved while its shutter was open, and used that data to intelligently reduce the resulting motion blur from the image. Two years later, the technology eventually made its way into Photoshop. If you're wondering, the shadowy host on the right was Rainn Wilson from the US version of The Office, which should give some context to the humor.

While I couldn't find a stream of this segment as it happened, Adobe published three videos after-the-fact. The keynote was co-hosted by Jordan Peele and, while I couldn't see her listed anywhere, I believe the other co-host is Elissa Dunn Scott from Adobe. ((Update, November 8th @ 12pm EST: Turns out I was wrong, and it was Kim Chambers from Adobe. Thanks Anonymous commenter!))

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The first (and most popular one to be reported on) is VoCo, which is basically an impressive form of text-to-speech. Given an audio waveform of a person talking, you are able to make edits by modifying the transcript. In fact, you are even able to write content that wasn't even in the original recording, and the plug-in will synthesize it based on what it knows of that person's voice. They claim that about 20 minutes of continuous speech is required to train the plug-in, so it's mostly for editing bloopers in audio books and podcasts.

In terms of legal concerns, Adobe is working on watermarking and other technologies to prevent spoofing. Still, it proves that the algorithm is possible (and on today's hardware) so I'm sure that someone else, if they weren't already working on it, might be now, and they might not be implementing the same protections. This is not Adobe's problem, of course. A company can't (and shouldn't be able to) prevent society from inventing something (although I'm sure the MPAA would love that). They can only research it themselves, and be as ethical with it as they can, or sit aside while someone else does it. Also, it's really on society to treat the situations correctly in the first place.

Moving on to the second demo: Stylit. This one is impressive in its own way, although not quite as profound. Basically, using a 2D drawing of a sphere, an artist can generate a material that can be applied to a 3D render. Using whatever they like, from pencil crayons to clay, the image will define the color and pattern of the shading ramp on the sphere, the shadow it casts, the background, and the floor. It's a cute alternating to mathematically-generated cell shading materials, and it even works in animation.

I guess you could call this a... 3D studio to the MAX... ... Mayabe?

The Stylit demo is available for free at their website. It is based on CUDA, and requires a fairly modern card (they call out the GTX 970 specifically) and a decent webcam (C920) or Android smartphone.

Lastly, CloverVR is and Adobe Premiere Pro interface in VR. This will seem familiar if you were following Unreal Engine 4's VR editor development. Rather than placing objects in a 3D scene, though, it helps the editor visualize what's going on in their shot. The on-stage use case is to align views between shots, so someone staring at a specific object will cut to another object without needing to correct with their head and neck, which is unnecessarily jarring.

Annnd that's all they have on their YouTube at the moment.

Source: Adobe

Steam "Discovery Update 2.0" Is Now Live

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2016 - 02:07 AM |
Tagged: valve, steam, pc gaming

As we mentioned last week, Valve was working on a major refresh of the Steam homepage, with a heavy emphasis on letting users find products that interest them. This update is now live, and will be presented to you the new next time you load (or reload) the store page. They also have a banner link, right near the top, that highlights changes, including a few they've already made over the course of 2016.

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One glaring thing that I note is the “Recently Viewed” block. There doesn't seem to be a way to disable this or otherwise limit the amount of history that it stores. While this is only visible to your account, which should be fairly obvious, it could be a concern for someone who shares a PC or streams regularly. It's not a big issue, but it's one that you would expect to have been considered.

Otherwise, I'd have to say that the update looks better. The dark gray and blue color scheme seems a bit more consistent than it was, and I definitely prefer the new carousel design.

What do you all think?

Hack a Day Prize, the 5 winning projects

Subject: General Tech | November 7, 2016 - 06:24 PM |
Tagged: contest, Dtto

This year there were over 1000 entries to the Hack a Day prize, they needed to be new projects which exemplified the five themes of the contest; Assistive Technologies, Automation, Citizen Scientist, Anything Goes, and Design Your Concept. The top prize winner is a modular robot, made from 3D printed parts, servo motors, magnets, and electronics you can easily source.  There was also a Reflectance Transformation Imaging project to photograph a fixed object in varying light conditions, an optics bench for making science projects involving light much easier to set up and new high resolution tilt sensors and stepper motors.  Check out the projects over at Hack a Day, they include the notes on how to replicate these buids yourself.

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"Dtto, a modular robot designed with search and rescue in mind, has just been named the winner of the 2016 Hackaday Prize. In addition to the prestige of the award, Dtto will receive the grand prize of $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena, CA."

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Source: Hack a Day

LastPass Drops Premium Requirement for Mobile Apps

Subject: General Tech | November 6, 2016 - 07:11 AM |
Tagged: lastpass

If you're using the free version of LastPass to guard your passwords, you can now access your vault through the mobile app for free. Previously, a subscription to LastPass Premium, which is about $12 per year, was required to use the service outside of desktop browser extensions and the website. The subscription service still exists, but for its other benefits, like sharing your vault with up to five other users, two-factor authentication through YubiKey, or securely storing 1GB of files (which could be good for things like encryption keyfiles to personal web servers).

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The native Windows “LastPass for Applications” is still Premium-class, though.

If you are still interested in LastPass Premium, they are participating in the Humble Lifehacker Software Bundle. Users who do not currently have LastPass Premium, who also pay more than (currently) $7.64 USD, will get 12 months. They will also get DisplayFusion and CyberGhost VPN, as well as everything in the $1 tier, like a couple of Stardock enhancements for Windows.

Source: LastPass

Turtle Rock Studios Releases "Dam It" Left 4 Dead Campaign

Subject: General Tech | November 6, 2016 - 04:00 AM |
Tagged: left 4 dead, pc gaming

The first Left 4 Dead was developed by Turtle Rock Studios during their brief time as a Valve subsidiary. At some point, they were working on a fifth campaign that was intended to bridge the gap between Dead Air and Blood Harvest. Players start at the landed plane and work their way toward a hydroelectric dam. One section, contrary to the game's theme, was apparently designed to encourage survivors to split up, some in a sniper tower and others running through a trench.

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Bills Here!
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Turtle Rock Studios has apparently streamed gameplay at some point. Since then, they published the campaign as a Left 4 Dead mod. It's not finished, and apparently quite glitchy, although I haven't played it yet, but it's free.

Check out the post at their forums, which has a link to concept material and the mod itself.

Windows 7 Allegedly Gaining Quicker than Windows 10

Subject: General Tech | November 5, 2016 - 08:09 PM |
Tagged: Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft

For the second month in a row, NetMarketShare are reporting that Windows 7 is gaining market-share faster than Windows 10. It's difficult to know exactly what this means, and for who, but one possible explanation is that users upgraded to Windows 10 and rolled back to 7 in significant amounts. It will be interesting to monitor the next couple of months, now that Windows 7 is no longer available at retail, to see how its market-share shifts. Then, a few months after that, we'll need to see how Zen and Kaby Lake, which are not supported by Windows 7 and Windows 8.x, changes that further.

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I'll now spend the rest of the post discussing statistics... because I can visualize the comments.

NetMarketShare records browser identification strings from partnered websites. As you would expect, there's a bit of controversy regarding how accurate their numbers are. Some of this criticism is simply wrong, usually misunderstanding how small a truly random sample needs to be to converge to the same ratios you will see in a large sample. Just a thousand truly random samples can get you within a few percent of hundreds of millions of people. Studies like this, if they are truly random, have plenty enough data to get a very precise ratio.

A valid concern, however, is whether their pool of websites under- or over-represent certain groups, especially when you attempt to make comparisons on the order of a hundredth of a percent. NetMarketShare claims that they try to get a global representation, including government websites, and they correct their traffic based on the CIA's per-country statistics. Still, it's good to question whether the group of people you are trying to investigate are represented by NetMarketShare's traffic, and how their limitations lower your effective precision.

Samsung Has Announcements for 14nm, 10nm, and 7nm

Subject: General Tech | November 5, 2016 - 11:01 AM |
Tagged: Samsung, euv, 7nm, 14nm, 10nm

As the comments usually remind us, the smallest feature size varies in interpretation from company to company, and node to node. You cannot assume how Samsung compares with Intel, GlobalFoundries, or TSMC based on the nanometer rating alone, better or worse. In fact, any specific fabrication process, when compared to another one, might be better in some ways yet worse in others.

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With all of that in mind, Samsung has announced the progress they've made with 14nm, 10nm, and 7nm fabrication processes. First, they plan to expand 14nm production with 14LPU. I haven't been able to figure out what this specific branding stands for, but I'm guessing it's something like “Low Power Ultra” given that it's an engineering name and those are usually super literal (like the other suffixes).

As for the other suffixes, Samsung begins manufacturing nodes with Low Power Early (LPE). From there, they improve upon their technique, providing higher performance and/or lower power, and call this new process Low Power Plus (LPP). LPC, which I believe stands for something like Low Power Cost, although I haven't seen this acronym officially expanded, removes a few manufacturing steps to make the end product cheaper. LPU is an extension of LPC with higher performance. Add the appropriate acronym as a suffix to the claimed smallest feature size, and you get the name of the node: xxLPX.

14LPU is still a ways out, though. Their second announcement, 10LPU, is expected to be their cost-reduction step for 10nm, which I interpret to mean they are omitting LPC from their 10nm production. You may think this is very soon, given how 10LPE has just started mass production a few weeks ago. Really, this is a quite early announcement in terms of overall 10nm production. The process design kits (PDKs) for both 14LPU and 10LPU, which are used by hardware vendors to design their integrated circuits, won't ship until 2Q17. As such, products will be a while behind that.

To close out, Samsung reiterated that 7nm is planned to use extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). They have apparently created a wafer using 7nm EUV, but images do not seem to be provided.

Development kits for 14LPU and 10LPU are expected to ship in the second quarter of 2017.

Source: Samsung

Diablo 3 Will Get a Diablo-style Campaign for Free

Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2016 - 10:21 PM |
Tagged: blizzard, pc gaming, diablo, diablo iii

Starting in the Public Test Realm next week, Diablo 3 will receive a campaign that is based on the original game, which turns 20 years old on New Year's Eve. Like the original game, you will fight down the levels of a dungeon into Hell where you fight and kill Diablo. Pardon the spoilers.

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The patch, called The Darkening of Tristram, seems to be taken light-heartedly by the company. They announce that it will add a low-quality rendering mode to pay homage to graphical limitations of 1996. More functionality, they also force the character to move in eight directions, which I'm not sure it's tongue-in-cheek or actually implemented for gameplay reasons.

Either way, you can check it out next week by joining the beta realm.

Source: Blizzard

VR Funhouse Game Jam Results

Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2016 - 09:33 PM |
Tagged: epic games, valve, htc, vr funhouse, nvidia

In early September, we posted about a VR game jam that was coming to Hamburg, Germany by Epic Games, NVIDIA, HTC, and Valve. The companies wanted to increase the amount of content available so, with the release of the VR Funhouse mod kit, they rented a boat, docked it really well, and let indie developers do their thing around the clock. Seven teams of three-to-five participated, and the public were invited to play around with the results.

Most of the entries deviated from the literal fun-house theme to some extent. Probably the most original game is one where users play a kid in a candy store, trying to evade detection while gorging on sweet, sweet candy. Go figure, it's called Kid in a Candy Store. The closest to the literal interpretation of the theme is Beer Beer Beer and Sausages, where you serve carnival food, with real beer and mustard fluid simulations.

Two of the games, Beer Beer Beer and Sausages and Waiter Wars, are available for free on the VR Funhouse Steam Workshop page. I'm not sure what happened to the rest. The Unreal Engine post seems to suggest that they are supposed to be here, but maybe some of the teams are looking to polish it up a little first.

Source: Epic Games