Tech Today w/ Ken May

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As the music video starts, Avicii nonchalantly wanders into Stockholm’s Tele2 Arena. He strolls past the venue’s reception; a Grand Marnier poster gets some vital screen time. The bass drops. The crowd goes wild. For some reason, I feel like drinking. Over the past few weeks, Avicii fans in the US have been unknowingly drawing an association between their favorite Swedish DJ’s proghouse hit ” Lay me Down ” and orange-flavored cognac. Everywhere else in the world, the brand is never seen — a plain wall lies in its place. It’s one of the first examples of a new kind of temporary product placement called “digital insertion.” Typically, product placement currently takes the form of a lingering product shot — like a Beats Pill speaker at the start of a Miley Cyrus video . With recent advances, companies can now use algorithms to digitally serve you unique product placements based on where you live, your age or your salary. It’s a creepy concept, but it could change advertising forever. The Grand Marnier spot is the work of Mirriad, an agency that sells what it calls “advertising for the skip generation.” Mirriad uses highly complex analysis tools to map video clips, automatically discerning the best places to insert products, billboards and other adverts. The software it created tracks objects and backgrounds in each frame, creating an optical flow of how objects move from second to second and essentially mapping the video in 3D. This enables both planar tracking (for modifying flat surfaces like walls, computer screens or newspapers) and 3D tracking (for placing complex 3D objects into a moving scene). Mark Popkiewicz, Mirriad CEO, explains the potential for the company’s technology. “We can embed brand assets, digital forms of whatever the brand is. It could be signage, like posters or billboards; it could be actual products. Anything from a can of Coke, a packet of Frosties, a mobile phone. You name it. It can even be a car; we’ve done many of those.” Mirriad has signed some big deals with Vevo and Universal Music Group (UMG) over the past six months. It also recently announced a partnership with advertising firm Havas to match the right companies to the right videos. Havas is an industry giant with huge brands on its books, and the first wave of Mirriad-UMG placements will include Coca-Cola, LG and Dish Network. Product placement is obviously nothing new. It dates back almost a century in radio and film, and has its beginnings in literature: Companies reportedly clamored to get a mention in Jules Verne’s 19th century novel Around the World in Eighty Days . Music videos, too, have long been firmly in the grasp of brands, with many clips acting as thinly veiled advertisements for Beats, Coca-Cola and countless other brands. However, these placements come with their problems. Advertising is ephemeral. Why should product placement be any different? Ever seen the first minute of Hilary Duff’s “All About You” video? It’s essentially an Amazon Fire Phone commercial . How valuable will that ad be to Amazon in five years’ time? You need only look at the countless ’00s musicians flashing two-way pagers for your answer. Regular advertising, be it in print, web or TV, is ephemeral. The ads running alongside this article, for example, are for current products and companies. Why should product placement be any different? Once Grand Marnier’s contract expires, Avicii may be walking past a Ford poster, or a can of Sprite. But let’s not forget location. At the time of writing, the Fire Phone is available in exactly three countries, yet anyone in the world can watch “All About You.” With digital product placement, the same artist can plug different brands depending on where the video is viewed. When it comes to buying these ads, Mirriad’s software automatically generates metadata about videos it processes, cataloging not only the advertising opportunities in each, but also the ideal target market and the value of placements — in fact, it’s really quite similar to web advertising. Rather than Microsoft placing branding on Taylor Swift’s wall, the company need only come to Mirriad and explain what kind of people it wants to advertise to. A campaign could target a million views from 16- to 24-year-olds in the US over a four-week period. Mirriad then embeds the relevant ads into as many videos as necessary to meet that target, using existing analytics from YouTube and others to prove their worth. “There’s no algorithm in the world that can tell you, ‘This is a good place for Smirnoff.'” “Our algorithms monitor down to a pixel level the actual exposure on screen, time, size, location and orientation of the brand so that we’re always meeting and exceeding a minimum level of exposure, ” says Popkiewicz. “Our technology is monitoring that, so that when you buy a campaign from us, you’re going to get a guaranteed level of exposure … For the brands, it takes the uncertainty out of advertising.” Of course, there are limits to what can be automated. “There’s no algorithm in the world that can tell you, ‘This is a good place for Smirnoff because it’s a party atmosphere, ‘ as opposed to, ‘This is a good place for Starbucks because it’s an office environment.’ Those sort of things we have to leave to human judgment.” Mirriad has already brought its ads to TV, and it’s not the first company to do so, either. If you’re in the UK and you watch Hannibal or Bones , chances are you’ve seen some digital product placement, while in the US, rival firm SeamBI offered a similar service that was used to, among other things, insert up-to-date ads into reruns of How I Met Your Mother . SeamBI was founded almost a decade ago, but it’s unclear what’s happened to the company. It hasn’t issued a press release in over two years; its founders are all working elsewhere; and a request for comment on this article was left unanswered. For now, it seems, Mirriad has this potentially lucrative market largely to itself. Popkiewicz is coy when quizzed on where the company’s placements might end up next, but is clear the company has big ambitions. TV could potentially be a far bigger market for Mirriad and other firms than music videos. There’s an obvious trend away from traditional television and toward digital content, whether through on-demand services from existing TV companies (think Hulu or HBO Go), or from all-digital services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. As we move away from watching live broadcasts or buying Blu-ray boxsets, Mirriad’s techniques become more and more feasible, and with a growing audience the potential for more complex placements increases. Although none of the big streaming players are keen on discussing the viability of product placement, TV studios are happy to explain its potential benefits and drawbacks behind closed doors. “As you offer your shows around the world through syndication, you encounter different laws about product placement, ” one executive, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains. “Adding ads after the fact increases the amount of money you can make from syndication because each country that airs your show can potentially generate revenue.” Another executive felt similarly upbeat about the financial possibilities, but did note that placements would have to be “tasteful” in order to prevent upsetting its shows’ “biggest fans.” “If you’re not careful to be tasteful, you’ll just end up upsetting your biggest fans.” Services like Netflix could be key to kicking product placement up a gear. There’s nothing preventing distributors from supplying streaming sites with special versions of your favorite show for various territories, each with different product placements from the version that aired on TV. Similarly, a service could, at any given moment, have hundreds of versions of a particular video for targeted advertising, serving Coca-Cola ads to teens or Grand Marnier to 20-somethings. Of course, this would require a lot of work on Netflix’s end — the company told us it has “nothing to share” on the matter — but should it make financial sense for both parties, it’s hard to see it not happening in some form. The same could be true for on-demand movies. Of course there would be some backlash if, for example, Quentin Tarantino’s Big Kahuna Burger joints suddenly turned into McDonald’s, but with a subtle hand, there’s a chance you may not even notice a new bottle of Coke in the background of your favorite Pulp Fiction scene. Comments

FTDI Reportedly Bricking Devices Using Competitors’ Chips.

Posted by kenmay on October - 22 - 2014

janoc writes It seems that chipmaker FTDI has started an outright war on cloners of their popular USB bridge chips. At first the clones stopped working with the official drivers, and now they are being intentionally bricked, rendering the device useless. The problem? These chips are incredibly popular and used in many consumer products. Are you sure yours doesn’t contain a counterfeit one before you plug it in? Hackaday says, “It’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Today, Google revealed a project two years in the making. At first glance it looks just like a redesign of Gmail, and that’s sort of half true. It’s actually a completely new system called “Inbox” and it wants to reimagine your email. Read more…

Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets have just become the first consumer mobile devices approved by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to carry classified documents. The edict covers most of its newer Galaxy devices, including the Galaxy S5 , Galaxy Note 4 , and the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet (2014 edition) — as long as they’re equipped with Knox , Samsung’s mobile security app. Knox-enabled devices have already been approved by the US Department of Defense, but only for general, not classified, use. That’s a shot of good news for Samsung in the face of recent dismal earnings , and it no doubt wants to translate the NSA’s golden nod into consumer and corporate sales. Ironically, many of those potential customers may be paranoid… of the NSA. Filed under: Cellphones , Samsung Comments Via: PC World Source: Samsung

How to Tap Your Network and See Everything That Happens On It

Posted by kenmay on October - 22 - 2014

Your home network is your fortress. Inside it lies tons of valuable information—unencrypted files, personal, private data, and perhaps most importantly, computers that can be hijacked and used for any purpose. Let’s talk about how you can, with the power of evil, sniff around your home network to make sure you don’t have any uninvited guests. Read more…

What It Took For SpaceX To Become a Serious Space Company

Posted by kenmay on October - 22 - 2014

An anonymous reader writes: The Atlantic has a nice profile of SpaceX’s rise to prominence — how a private startup managed to successfully compete with industry giants like Boeing in just a decade of existence. “Regardless of its inspirations, the company was forced to adopt a prosaic initial goal: Make a rocket at least 10 times cheaper than is possible today. Until it can do that, neither flowers nor people can go to Mars with any economy. With rocket technology, Musk has said, “you’re really left with one key parameter against which technology improvements must be judged, and that’s cost.” SpaceX currently charges $61.2 million per launch. Its cost-per-kilogram of cargo to low-earth orbit, $4, 653, is far less than the $14, 000 to $39, 000 offered by its chief American competitor, the United Launch Alliance. Other providers often charge $250 to $400 million per launch; NASA pays Russia $70 million per astronaut to hitch a ride on its three-person Soyuz spacecraft. SpaceX’s costs are still nowhere near low enough to change the economics of space as Musk and his investors envision, but they have a plan to do so (of which more later).” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

A huge Halo: Master Chief Collection clocks in at 65GB

Posted by kenmay on October - 22 - 2014

Microsoft reportedly scrapped its original plans to ship Master Chief Collection in a “car full of 5.25″ disks” format. Lenore Edman About a year ago, we had to quickly get used to 50 GB download sizes for console games like PS4 launch title Killzone: Shadow Fall . Game size inflation hasn’t exactly stopped since then, as evidenced by word that the upcoming Halo: Master Chief Collection will take up a whopping 65 GB on Xbox One hard drives next month. Buried in Friday’s official “gone gold” announcement was word that the Xbox One’s remastered edition of the first four Halo games, which is currently available for pre-loading, would actually be bigger than a standard 50GB Blu-ray disc. Rather than splitting the 65GB across two discs for the retail edition, Microsoft has decided to include 45GB of data in the box and require players to download a 20GB day one “content update” to access “some features and multiplayer content.” Players will be able to play the bulk of the single-player content while the 20GB content pack is downloading and installing, Microsoft says. Why make even retail buyers download so much data? “The game is designed to run as a single, unified product,” 343 Industries Franchise Development Director Frank O’Connor explained on gaming forum NeoGAF over the weekend . “Digital is seamless obviously, but we also wanted disc users to have the same experience, without swapping discs. Since the bulk of [the download] is [multiplayer] or MP related, the logic is sound.” While it may have been feasible to simply install a single, unified game to the Xbox One hard drive from two discs, O’Connor elaborated that such a solution “simply wasn’t practical for this product, this year in this timeline.” Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

On July 15th, 1942—in the midst of World War II’s long-running Battle of the Atlantic—a German U-boat and a Nicaraguan freighter were wrecked a mere 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras. Now, over seven decades later, their watery resting places have been (re)discovered . Read more…

Software Glitch Caused 911 Outage For 11 Million People

Posted by kenmay on October - 22 - 2014 writes: Brian Fung reports at the Washington Post that earlier this year emergency services went dark for over six hours for more than 11 million people across seven states. “The outage may have gone unnoticed by some, but for the more than 6, 000 people trying to reach help, April 9 may well have been the scariest time of their lives.” In a 40-page report (PDF), the FCC found that an entirely preventable software error was responsible for causing 911 service to drop. “It could have been prevented. But it was not, ” the FCC’s report reads. “The causes of this outage highlight vulnerabilities of networks as they transition from the long-familiar methods of reaching 911 to [Internet Protocol]-supported technologies.” On April 9, the software responsible for assigning the identifying code to each incoming 911 call maxed out at a pre-set limit; the counter literally stopped counting at 40 million calls. As a result, the routing system stopped accepting new calls, leading to a bottleneck and a series of cascading failures elsewhere in the 911 infrastructure. Adm. David Simpson, the FCC’s chief of public safety and homeland security, says having a single backup does not provide the kind of reliability that is ideal for 911. “Miami is kind of prone to hurricanes. Had a hurricane come at the same time [as the multi-state outage], we would not have had that failover, perhaps. So I think there needs to be more [distribution of 911 capabilities].” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Borderless Gaming Fixes Alt+Tab Issues in Full Screen Games

Posted by kenmay on October - 22 - 2014

Windows only: Games are best when played full screen, but many won’t play nice with Alt+Tab in full screen mode—which means you can’t look at your browser for a guide or change the music playing in the background. Borderless Gaming fixes that problem. Read more…