I can hear the RGBs!

Subject: General Tech | January 28, 2019 - 01:41 PM |
Tagged: optoacoustic effect, audio

There are a variety of ways to send targeted audio, which can only be heard when standing in  a specific are.  Generally this is accomplished by broadcasting sounds at a frequency to high to be perceived by humans, until it encounters specific interference which lowers the frequency into an audible range.  This is currently used for targeted advertising, or for driving people nuts if you consider the two separate. 

Today The Register posted a new way to provide targeted audio, which uses light instead of high frequency audio to transmit the signal.  Previously this was used in medical imaging techniques, this particular application is new.  The light interacts with water in the atmosphere to provide audio to a specific location, using what is termed the optoacoustic effect.  The moisture in question is insignificant, the humidity in the air and that produced by exhalation is enough for this to be effective.  Pop by for more information on this; though there is no confirmation that wearing an RGB headset will enhance or interfere with transmission.

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"Water is among a class of materials that can emit sound after they absorb light, and according to a paper in Optics Letters, a correctly tuned laser can be modulated to deliver human-audible sounds this way."

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Source: The Register

That's the first rule of Input Club, Kira!

Subject: General Tech | January 25, 2019 - 05:31 PM |
Tagged: input, NovelKey, mechanical keyboard, kira, Kailh, input club, Hako, cherry

Input Club Inc, which should be called InC Inc, successfully kickstarted the "ultimate full size mechanical keyboard" which they named Kira.  The designers obviously have strong feelings about keyboards as TechPowerUp alludes to some interesting behind the scenes drama involving the design team's past.  If you also share a passion for specific keyboard designs then you might want to check out their review.  The Kira offers you a lot of choice in addition to a compact design, you can choose from a variety of Cherry, Kailh, Hako, and NovelKey switches and you can easily reprogram every single key via their software if you prefer Dvorak, Colemak or other layouts than the default QWERTY. 

It is rather expensive, $169–$259 to pre-order and is thoroughly infested with RGBs, but there is a price to pay for loving keyboards this much.

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"The Input Club Kira keyboard arose as a design with lofty goals and even higher expectations from the community that helped crowdfund it. Now as a retail product, it is available in a variety of switches, case frames, colors, and even as a kit. No matter the choice, the final product does justice to light, its name, in more ways than one."

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Source: TechPowerUp

Remember when steganography was going to be used for good?

Subject: General Tech | January 25, 2019 - 12:55 PM |
Tagged: steganography, Java, security, ios, VeryMal

In the ancient times before the turn of the millennia, steganography was going to be the way to stick it to the man, offering a way to hide secrets in plain sight by embedding data in pictures.  It is much older than that, dating back thousands of years but it wasn't until the mid-80's that it was brought to mainstream computing.  It is in the headlines today as Confiant and Malwarebytes have detected it being used to hide code in banner ads and taking advantage of a JavaScript vulnerability on Macs to redirect browsers to a site where you get the opportunity to install a Flash 'update'.  It looks to have been most active between January 11th and 13th, but evidence suggests it was active since December, so make sure to update your protection ASAP.

If you are interested in how VeryMal works, The Register has a good write up here.

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"A strain of malware has been clocked using steganography to run malicious JavaScript on Macs via images in online banner ads, it was claimed this week."

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Source: The Register

No audio jack, eh? A Creative way to use your phones USB-C port

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2019 - 04:03 PM |
Tagged: usb-c, SXFI Amp, Headphone Amp, Creative, Aurvana Trio, Aurvana SE, audio

There was a dearth of USB-C audio devices shown off at CES, with wireless connectivity and other ways of dealing with the removal of the audio jack from phones getting far more attention.  However, Creative were up to the challenge and showed off their new USB-C to 3.5mm SXFI Amp for headphones as well as the Aurvana SE over the ears headset and Aurvana Trio earbuds. 

The amp is quite impressive, with an Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4377 32-bit DAC that can drive headphones with up to a 600Ω impedance, and provide 120dB SNR from 24 bit/96 kHz input and provide 2.0, 5.1 or  7.1 channel sound.  TechPowerUp took a listen to all three products and compiled a review for those who want high quality audio from their phone.

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"Creative finally brings to market its Super X-Fi technology built over 20 years of R&D. It aims to be a radical new change to the audio world by not only offering extremely convincing surround sound using stereo headphones, but generally enhancing the audio experience even for mono recordings provided you have a certain set of compatible devices."

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Source: TechPowerUp

War never changes? It is an EA-scalating problem!

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | January 24, 2019 - 01:19 PM |
Tagged: ea, dice, battlefield V, rant, editorial, gaming

At some point EA and DICE will cross another even more absurd line than they already have, but it is hard to figure out how.  They are scratching their heads about why sales of Battlefield V have been so abysmal, and come up with bizarre scenarios such as a lack of realism or that there was a female on the cover art.   There are of course other explanations for the poor performance, and somehow they have decided to continue emptying a Luger into their foot.

Today they have found yet another reason to convince people not to buy the game, on top of so many other reasons; they've rescinded their promise to include the Rental Server Program that was included on each and every other one of their recent BF releases.  This is, of course, after they went after customers who had the temerity to keep older BF games alive on their own servers after Gamespy went off to silicon heaven. 

That is just the most recent of their blunderful performances, which include such highlights as rebranding loot boxes as booster packs and once again delving into microtransactions.  We won't even mention that the killer app of the engine is still slowly being implemented and that you need to buy a $1000 piece of hardware just to have the opportunity to see the work in progress; assuming your eyes are good enough to spot it. 

One hoped the declining sales figures might have a positive impact on EA and DICE's treatment of their customers but for now it seems they are just doubling down on being ...

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"Battlefield V developer DICE now says it's not sure whether it will be able to "deliver" the series' traditional Rental Server Program (RSP) for the latest game in the franchise."

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Source: Ars Technica

Lenovo Unleashes Smart Devices with Alexa and Google Assistants

Subject: General Tech | January 24, 2019 - 02:11 AM |
Tagged: tablet, snapdragon 450, Lenovo, google, Android, Alexa

While Lenovo’s desktop displays and mobile PCs got most of the attention at CES earlier this month, the company also took the wraps off a number of smart devices for the home in the form of a Google Assistant powered clock and a pair of Alexa powered tablets.

The Lenovo Smart Clock features a four-inch touchscreen using an IPS panel and 480x800 resolution wrapped in a soft touch fabric shell. Around back there is a single USB port, mute mic button, and volume controls. The Smart Clock uses a single 3-watt speaker (6W max) and there is support for Google’s multi-room audio and Chromecast support integrated. Measuring 113.88x79.2x79.8mm and weighing 328 grams (0.72 lbs), Lenovo’s smart clock is powered by a MediaTek 81675 clocked at 1.5 GHz paired with 1GB RAM and 8GB of internal eMMC storage. Wireless support includes 802.11ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 5.0.

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On the tablet front, Lenovo launched the Smart Tab P10 and Smart Tab M10 which officially launched January 19th. Both models are 10-inch tablets that run Android Oreo and include a docking station (the Smart Dock) that enables Alexa Show Mode. The Lenovo M10 is the budget option and the P10 dials up the specifications a bit. Both tablets have a 10.1” 1920x1200 IPS display, front-facing Dolby Atmos speakers (the M10 has two, the P10 has four), front and rear cameras (the M10 uses a 2MP camera up front and a 5MP rear camera while the P10 has a 5MP front camera and an 8MP rear camera), and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 processor. The M10 features a soft touch finish, measures 8mm thick and weighs in at 1.05 pounds while the P10 uses a dual glass design and is slightly thinner and lighter at 7mm and 0.97 pounds respectively. The Lenovo M10 has 2GB or 3GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of internal storage depending on the specific SKU along with a 4850 mAh battery. Stepping things up slightly the P10 offers up to 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and a 7,000 mAh battery. The P10 further adds a Fingerprint reader and extra sensors.

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When docked the tablet can take advantage of dual 3-watt speakers and three far-field microphones to listen for Alexa activation commands while also being charged via the dock connector. The Smart Dock itself weighs 1.76 lbs and measures 2.57” x 11.16” x 1.96”.

Lenovo’s Smart Tab tablets are available now starting at $199.99 for the Smart Tab M10 and $299.99 for the Smart Tab P10. The Google Assistant-powered Smart Clock has a MSRP of $79.99 and is slated for a spring 2019 release.

What are your thoughts on the Alexa integrated tablets? I think it’s a nice-to-have feature, but I’m not sure I like Alexa enough to buy a tablet because of it. With that said, I will say that I was resistant to the various assistants (Cortana, Alexa, Google), and I still don’t use it on my phone, but the Echo and Echo Dots at the house are useful and can do some cool stuff! A tablet that can dock and use Alexa controls to display stuff could be handy for looking up recipies or watching the PC Perspective podcast (#JoshTekk) while in the kitchen.

Source: Lenovo

Adobe Buys Allegorithmic (Substance Suite)

Subject: General Tech | January 23, 2019 - 09:16 PM |
Tagged: Adobe, allegorithmic

In a modern 3D workflow, it’s common to paint materials onto a model from a library. The artist could, for instance, place apply an iron base to their geometry before painting a rust material atop certain sections of it. There can also be stencils of paint and so forth. The software package that they use then bakes those materials into PBR textures that a game engine can combine to recreate the look of the material.

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In my experience, there are two popular applications for this: Substance Suite from Allegorithmic and Quixel Suite from Quixel.

The former, Allegorithmic, was just purchased by Adobe for an undisclosed amount. Adobe plans to “incorporate Allegorithmic’s Substance tools into Creative Cloud over the coming months” but the subscriptions are (at least as far as I can tell) unchanged for now. The logo changed, but that’s about it.

As a bit of an aside, Allegorithmic just announced RTX support for light baking in their Substance Suite. I haven't used it myself, but I've heard that it works well.

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Image Credit: Allegorithmic. Model by Glauco Longhi.

The reaction to this announcement is a bit all over the map. Naturally GIMP responded by tweeting out that people should donate to Blender – which is a good idea, but using proprietary tools is okay, too. It’s not like the tools are required to use the products going forward, as is the case with an operating system. There was also some non-specific complaints on Twitter about the software being absorbed into Adobe. At the same time, there’s been some excitement from those who have at least one subscription to Adobe and/or Allegorithmic already. (I am in this group.)

I am curious what will happen to their Linux support when being absorbed by Adobe, however. Mac and Windows should not change any time soon, but Allegorithmic serves Linux and Adobe is historically flippant about the penguin. Hopefully that will continue.

So it looks like the 3D painting suite is coming to Creative Cloud with a time frame of “over the coming months”. What are your thoughts?

Source: Adobe

The rocket pack's red glare

Subject: General Tech | January 23, 2019 - 03:16 PM |
Tagged: gaming, anthem, BioWare, origin

BioWare's soon to be released not-a-fantasy-RPG, Anthem, is offering a free open demo for you to try out on the first weekend of February.  If you are more interested in flying around with a jetpack than watching the SuperBowl, the demo will start you at level 10 so you will get a better idea of how the game plays than starting fresh.  Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN were told that the amount of drops will be much higher than in the actual game, so you may also see a wide selection of upgrades and new items during your brief peek. 

The game, which does not actually feature the Power Rangers, will arrive at the end of February if you happen to fall in love with it ... on Origin.

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"The open demo will run from 5pm next Friday, February 1st until Sunday the 3rd. No, it’s not long. That is preceded by a couple extra days of demo for folks who pre-order but pre-ordering is for mugs."

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The Internet of Ubuntu things

Subject: General Tech | January 23, 2019 - 02:00 PM |
Tagged: canonical, ubuntu core, iot

Canonical is one of the few that take the security of the various connected devices, colloquially known as the Internet of Things, seriously.  They released an OS called Ubuntu Core 18, based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, to the internet back in December which is designed to offer a way not only to secure your IoT devices but to update them as well.  All hardware has digitally signed snaps which let you verify the state of it's firmware and software at any time to ensure no one has been mucking about in it.  Along with the virtualisation comes a decade of security updates, with patches that can be released to x86, x64 and ARM based hardware simultaneously. 

The Inquirer mentions that while most of these patches will be free, there may be some with a small cost associated, which may indicate they will support discontinued products and those with tiny market shares.

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"There's loads more to discover about Ubuntu Core 18, which was first made available as a preview in December. As ever, its open source and it's free to download."

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Source: The Inquirer

Something possible and something true, a little AMD and NVIDIA news for you

Subject: General Tech | January 22, 2019 - 01:30 PM |
Tagged: and, nvidia, leak, linux, 1660 ti, radeon vii

Once again we have an interesting leak from TUM_APISAK, this time about an upcoming NVIDIA product.  The performance of the GTX 1660 Ti may or may not match the benchmark below but if it does we may finally be seeing a new mid-range Turing GPU from NVIDIA.  The GTX naming scheme is worth noting, as it implies this will not feature the Ray Tracing or other enhancements brought by the RTX family and the strange new numbering system implies we might see more.  That lack may help drive the price down, which would give people a chance to pick up something noticeably faster than a GTX 1060.

If you are more interested in verifiable news, The Inquirer also offers that this morning with confirmation of Linux support for AMD's new GPUs right from the very start.  This has been something which we haven't really seen from AMD in the past, with enthusiasts working in the dark to tweak existing open source drivers to power AMD cards.  Over the past few years AMD has been more forthcoming with information that helped in the development of drivers and has been more successful at releasing their own.   This is great news that the new Radeon VII family will be conversant in Linux as of day one; we will keep an eye out for comparative performance once the cards launch.

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"The leaked benchmarks come courtesy serial leaker APISAK, which posted a screenshot of the Ashes of Singularity benchmark showing a GPU called the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti."

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Source: The Inquirer