FarCry 3: Blood Dragon Free from Ubisoft Club

Subject: General Tech | November 9, 2016 - 07:05 PM |
Tagged: ubisoft, pc gaming, free games, free

Ubisoft has been giving away a game for free to all who claim it, once per month. If you do, then it is yours forever. If not, then you missed it. The most recent entry is FarCry 3: Blood Dragon, which is a standalone spin-off of the Einstein-quoting island shooter that parodies 80s action content. These games will be delivered by their UPlay digital distribution platform, and you require an Ubisoft account to claim it, but that's your choice to make for free content.

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We're almost at the end of Ubisoft's 30th anniversary promotion, with just a single title left. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm guessing it has some significance to the company and, like the announcement of a sequel to Beyond Good and Evil, could be accompanied by larger news.

Any guesses?

Source: Ubisoft

Red Alert 2 VR Fan Proof-of-Concept in Unreal Engine 4

Subject: General Tech | November 9, 2016 - 06:25 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, VR, ue4, red alert, command and conquer

Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 was a 2D real-time strategy game about a science-fiction alternate universe version of Cold War Allies vs Soviets. The base-building mechanic involved collecting funds from captured neutral structures and harvesting resources throughout the map. Ádám Horváth, a fan of the series, with 3D assets created by an artist who goes by the name Slye_Fox, created a VR implementation in Unreal Engine 4.

The interface implementation is quite interesting in particular. It looks almost like someone hovering over a board game, interfacing with the build menu via a virtual hand-held tablet. The game mechanics look quite complete, with even things like enemy AI and supply crates (although think the camera didn't catch when it was actually picked up) implemented. It definitely looks good, and looks like it could form the basis for a full real-time strategy interface for VR.

The Brookhaven Experiment, the next in the new wave of VR shooters

Subject: General Tech | November 9, 2016 - 02:03 PM |
Tagged: brookhaven experiment, VR, amd, nvidia, htc vive

[H]ard|OCP has a new Vive title to test on AMD and NVIDIA silicon, a wave shooter with some horror elements called The Brookhaven Experiment.  As with most of these games they found some interesting results in the testing, in this case the GPU load stayed very consistent, regardless of how much was on the screen at any time.  The graphical settings in this title are quite bare but it does support supersampling, which [H]ard|OCP recommends you turn on when playing the game, if your system can support it.  Check out the rankings in their full review.

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"If naked mutants from another dimension with horribly bad skin conditions interests you, this is YOUR VR game! The Brookhaven Experiment is a tremendously intense 360 degree wave shooter that will keep you on your toes, give you a workout, and probably scare the piss out of you along the way. How do AMD and NVIDIA stack up in VR?"

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Let's hack some lightbulbs; HueHueHue

Subject: General Tech | November 9, 2016 - 01:10 PM |
Tagged: hack, iot, phillips, hue

If you were hoping to drive someone a wee bit crazy by remote controlling their light bulbs you have probably missed your opportunity as Phillips have patched the vulnerability.  This is a good thing as it was a very impressive flaw.  Security researchers figured out a vulnerability in the ZigBee system used to control Phillips Hue smart light bulbs and they did not need to be anywhere near the lights to do so.  They used a drone from over 1000 feet away to break into the system to cause the lights to flash and even worse, they were able to ensure that the bulb would no longer accept firmware updates which made their modifications permanent.  Unpatched systems could be leveraged to turn all the lights off permanently, or to start an unexpected disco light show if you wanted to be creative.  You can pop by Slashdot for a bit more information on the way this was carried out.

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"Researchers were able to take control of some Philips Hue lights using a drone. Based on an exploit for the ZigBee Light Link Touchlink system, white hat hackers were able to remotely control the Hue lights via drone and cause them to blink S-O-S in Morse code. The drone carried out the attack from more than a thousand feet away."

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Source: Slashdot

Diamonds are forever, make the memory last

Subject: General Tech | November 8, 2016 - 01:59 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 - 03:00 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 7, 2016 - 09:07 PM |
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 - 01:24 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 - 02:11 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 - 12:00 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.