Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for February 22nd, 2017

KSU plant biochemical geneticist Raj Nagarajan describes the properties of Thaumatin, Monellin and Brazzein, all found in west African plants that are generally considered safe for consumption; each is a protein, and they are, respectively, 1,000x, 2000x, and 3000x sweeter than sugar. (more…)

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High school teacher Joe Howard made another excellent math video. This time, he shows how Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth in 200 BC. In one of the dopest displays of critical thinking in history, Erotosthenes estimated the circumference of the Earth. All he had was a pole, the sun, knowledge of a famous well in Egypt, and potentially money to pay someone to walk the distance between two cities. This story demonstrates the beauty of trigonometry.

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Nearby star has 7 "Earthlike" planets

Posted by kenmay on February - 22 - 2017

TRAPPIST-1 is a star that’s 39 light years away from us. The journal Nature reports that it has seven warm, Earthlike planets orbiting it. From Washington Post : The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have ever detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying alien worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth. “Before this, if you wanted to study terrestrial planets, we had only four of them and they were all in our solar system,” said lead author Michaël Gillon, an exoplanet researcher at the University of Liège in Belgium. “Now we have seven Earth-sized planets to expand our understanding. Yes, we have the possibility to find water and life. But even if we don’t, whatever we find will be super interesting.” Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton) Specs at a glance: Zotac Zbox EN1080 (barebones) CPU Intel Core i7-6700 GPU Nvidia GTX 1080 Networking Dual gigabit LAN, 802.11ac/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 Ports Microphone, headphone, 4x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1x USB 3.1 Type-A RAM 2 x DDR4-1866/2133 SODIMM Slots (up to 32GB) Storage 1x 2.5-inch SATA 6.0 Gbps HDD/SSD bay, 1x M.2 PCIe x4 slot (22/42,22/60,22/80) Price £2000 / $2000 Size 225mm x 203mm x 128mm Last year Zotac released its tiny, gaming-ready Zbox EN1060 mini-PC. Featuring an Intel Core i5-6400T processor and Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card, the EN1060 is more than fast enough for high settings 1080p gaming at 60FPS or more. But for those that demand more frames, more resolution, and more powerful hardware inside a console-sized chassis—particularly as Sony raised the game somewhat with the PlayStation 4 Pro —Zotac has another option. Enter the Zotac Zbox Magnus EN1080, a ventilated black cube that packs a fully watercooled Skylake Intel Core i7-6700  processor (note the lack of the unlocked “K” designation) and Nvidia GTX 1080 inside a case just 225mm wide and 203mm deep. Such powerful hardware means the EN1080 is capable of playing games at a native 4K resolution with near maximum settings at over 60FPS. Even better, thanks to the clever watercooling setup inside, it does so while remaining quieter than any console or desktop PC with a standard cooling setup. It’s seriously impressive stuff. Naturally, there’s a price to pay for such a setup—and it’s not cheap. A barebones EN1080—where you supply your own storage, memory, and operating system—costs around £2,000 / $2,000 . A more conventional desktop system with the same components plus storage, RAM, OS, and a decent all-on-one liquid cooler comes in at under £1500. Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Some employees with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who work in the Washington, D.C. area and in Philadelphia, PA were unable to access the DHS computer network on Tuesday, reports Reuters , citing “three sources familiar with the matter.” (more…)

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Verizon will test 5G wireless in 11 cities by mid-2017

Posted by kenmay on February - 22 - 2017

Verizon isn’t going to let AT&T’s 5G plans go unanswered. The carrier (and our corporate overlord) says it will pilot the gigabit-class wireless in 11 cities by the middle of 2017, including major urban hubs like Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Seattle and Washington, DC. These will be “pre-commercial services” offered to specific customers, so don’t expect to try extra-fast cellular data in your neighborhood. Instead, this is about investigating “scenarios and use cases” before Verizon is ready to ask for money. It’s not certain when you’ll see honest-to-goodness paid service, although Verizon has been aiming for sometime in 2017. However, any widespread deployment is likely to be contingent on a formal 5G standard, which doesn’t exist yet — and that’s not including the necessary hardware . You might not want to get too excited, then. While 5G may well usher in an era where your smartphone data speeds are as fast as a fiber optic line, the technology is still very much in the early stages. Source: Verizon

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Gemalto Launches eSIM Technology for Windows 10 Devices

Posted by kenmay on February - 22 - 2017

An anonymous reader shares a report: Global digital security firm Gemalto on Tuesday announced it will make available its on-demand connectivity and eSIM technology for Microsoft’s Windows 10 devices. The eSIM is designed to be remotely provisioned by mobile network operators with subscription information and is globally interoperable across all carriers, device makers and technology providers implementing the specification. Gemalto’s On-Demand Connectivity solution gives service providers the capability to deliver a seamless customer experience for connecting consumer and industrial devices. “eSIM technology remains an important investment for Microsoft as we look to create even more mobile computing opportunities, ” said Roanne Sones, General Manager (Strategy and Ecosystem), Microsoft. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Next iPhone might have depth-sensing front camera

Posted by kenmay on February - 22 - 2017

It’s that time of year, folks. Rumors of what the next iPhone will be like are coming in hot and heavy. Last week, well-connected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo noted that the new handsets would nix the home button for a touch-friendly “function area.” Now there’s another bit of info. In a KGI Securities report detailed by 9to5Mac , the analyst explains that the upcoming OLED iPhone will feature a “revolutionary” front camera that’s capable of sensing 3D space via infrared. More specifically, the report explains that the newfangled camera can combine depth information with 2D images for things like facial recognition, iris recognition and, perhaps most importantly, 3D selfies. Given the previous report about the home button being put out to pasture, there will need to be a replacement for Touch ID. Rumors indicate that either facial recognition or a fingerprint reader embedded in the display would assist with unlocking the device. This new report would point more to the former method. The report also explains a bit about how the 3D front-facing camera would be used in gaming scenarios. The camera could be used to replace an in-game character’s head or face with that of the user and those 3D selfies could be destined for augmented reality. It’s no surprise to get word of potential depth-sensing camera tech from Apple. The company nabbed PrimeSense in 2013, an outfit that co-developed the original Kinect for Xbox. This latest KGI report says PrimeSense algorithms will allow the hardware to depth and location of objects in its field of view. An earlier report from Fast Company explained that Apple was working with Lumentum to use its 3D-sensing tech on the next iPhone. While the 3D camera will only be on the front side for now, Kuo says Apple will eventually employ the tech on around back as well. The report also explains that the company is way ahead of Android as far as 3D algorithms go, so a depth-sensing camera would be a unique feature for a couple of years. Of course, if the early rumors are true, you can expect to pay $1, 000 for the 10th anniversary iPhone when it arrives. Source: 9to5Mac

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The Alienware 13 gets better with VR and impressive battery life

Posted by kenmay on February - 22 - 2017

Gaming laptops used to be an outlier in the world of portable computing. When the rest of the market was focused on extending battery life, gaming laptops doubled down on raw power and thick frames designed for better airflow. Trying to find a small gaming machine that didn’t sacrifice power for portability was a fool’s errand. Today, things are different. Gaming laptops can be thin , have enough battery life to survive a plane flight, and double as a productivity and entertainment machine with few compromises. The best recent example of this to cross my desk is the Alienware 13, a small, powerful gaming laptop that does almost everything right. The New Alienware 13 isn’t just a strong example of a compact gaming notebook. It’s also the brand’s first outing with an Intel 7th-generation “Kaby Lake” Core CPU, which promises to push 4K content to the laptop’s screen without decimating battery life . Combined with the strides NVIDIA made with its mobile GPU platform last year, that alone makes 2017 a good year for PC gamers to consider upgrading their mobile battle station — but there’s more to love about the Alienware 13 than just its new internals. Hardware Somewhere between the garish, brightly colored accents of ASUS’ ROG Strix laptop and the thin aluminum shell of the Razer Blade Pro , you’ll find Alienware’s latest notebook — a machine with enough flair to identify itself as a serious gaming rig, yet still subtle enough to keep it from being an eyesore. Its simple matte black finish lets it blend in as a normal work laptop, but its anodized aluminum lid, subtly angled front lip and Dell’s AlienFX lighting lend it just the right amount of attitude. At a glance, the machine looks like a minor tweak of Alienware’s previous gaming laptops , albeit with less LED lighting, but there is one major change: the screen. Dell has moved the Alienware 13’s display about an inch closer to the user. This is actually a practical design aesthetic: It leaves a 1.3-inch lip behind the screen for heat exhaust, making the laptop’s bottom a little cooler when playing games. That lip is also home to most of the machine’s connections, including an Ethernet jack, mini DisplayPort, HDMI socket and a USB Type-C Thunderbolt port. This is also where you’ll plug in the laptop’s AC adapter and the Alienware Graphics Amplifier , if you happen to own one. Users who just want to plug in a mouse can find a full-size USB 3.0 port on either side of the machine, as well as two audio jacks on the left and an extra USB Type-C connection on the right. The smooth, soft plastic coating that drapes the laptop’s chassis is a bit of an Alienware standard, and I’m still a fan. The rubber-like surface dulls the corners of the machine’s body, and feels almost silky to the touch. Best of all, it doesn’t collect unsightly fingerprints like laptops built from harder materials. Keyboard and trackpad That same rubberized coating extends to the keyboard, which lends the Alienware 13’s keys a soft, almost luxurious feel. The buttons themselves are a joy to type on, falling 2.2mm and landing on a firm, but springy steel baseboard. Like any keyboard bearing the Alienware TacX branding, it promises millions of keystrokes in durability and full anti-ghosting capabilities, but to me, it’s the style that really makes it stand out. Unlike most modern laptops, the Alienware 13’s keyboard features full sized keycaps that meet edge-to-edge, with no space between the keys. It’s a design you might have seen on a machine made a decade ago, before island-style keyboards became the norm. For me, it’s a nostalgic comfort — a style I’ve always found easier to type and game on that has nonetheless fallen by the wayside. The Alienware 13’s touchpad gets almost everything right as well. It’s a spacious mousing surface that can navigate multitouch gestures without messing up, a feat that’s unfortunately still impressive on many Windows machines. The buttons are great too; they fall with a firm, but quiet click that feels just right. At worst, its AlienFX lighting feature activates at inconvenient times, causing the entire touchpad to glow if my palm ever brushes it while I’m typing. This contact never moved the cursor, but it the repeated, unexpected lighting can be distracting. I turned it off and moved on. Display and sound Most gaming machines I review manage a passing audio grade by doing the bare minimum: offering loud, clear sound without distortion or cracking. The Alienware 13 is one of the rare few that actually impressed me. During my gaming sessions, I kept hearing odd sounds coming from my front door. I’d check the porch, and there would be nothing there. Back at my desk, the sound would pipe up again. After a few fruitless trips to the front of the house, I figured out what was happening: The laptop was somehow “throwing” sound across the room like a ventriloquist. The Alienware 13 has built-in surround sound that actually kind of works. This was a surprise. Most attempts to simulate spatial sound in a laptop fall flat, but Alienware’s Virtual Surround had me instinctively glancing left and right to see where a sound might have come from. It’s a clear differentiation from simple left-and-right sound separation too, with the ability to project sound to areas very close to the laptop’s chassis, or all the way across the room. Like most fake surround systems, it fails to simulate having speakers behind the viewer, but it’s still a cut above the average laptop audio setup. My review unit came outfitted with a 13.3-inch 2, 560 x 1, 440 OLED touch display , and it’s simply gorgeous. It offers everything you’d expect from a great screen: vivid colors, wide viewing angles and excellent contrast. It’s a strong example of the kind of difference display technology can make; OLED panels simply produce deeper blacks than their IPS counterparts. Still, there are some drawbacks. The screen’s blacks are so dark that it’s almost hard to tell where the display ends and the its dark, wide bevel begins, which can make the screen look a little smaller than it really is. I also had to dial Battlefield 1 ‘s brightness calibration dial to 93 percent to make the test logo visible. Deep blacks indeed. Performance PCMark 7 PCMark 8 (Creative Accelerated) 3DMark 11 3DMark (Sky Diver) ATTO (top reads/writes) Alienware 13 (2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1060) 4, 692 4, 583 E16, 703 / P12, 776 24, 460 1.78 GB/s / 1.04 GB/s Razer Blade Pro 2016 (2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 6, 884 6, 995 E18, 231 / P16, 346 27, 034 2.75 GB/s / 1.1 GB/s ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS (2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ , NVIDIA GTX 1070) 5, 132 6, 757 E15, 335 / P13, 985 25, 976 2.14 GB/s / 1.2 GB/s HP Spectre x360 (2016, 2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5, 515 4, 354 E2, 656 / P1, 720 / X444 3, 743 1.76 GB/s / 579 MB/s Lenovo Yoga 910 (2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, 8GB, Intel HD 620) 5, 822 4, 108 E2, 927 / P1, 651 / X438 3, 869 1.59 GB/s / 313 MB/s Razer Blade (Fall 2016) (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5, 462 3, 889 E3, 022 / P1, 768 4, 008 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s Razer Blade (Fall 2016) + Razer Core (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 5, 415 4, 335 E11, 513 / P11, 490 16, 763 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s ASUS ZenBook 3 (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5, 448 3, 911 E2, 791 / P1, 560 3, 013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s HP Spectre 13 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5, 046 3, 747 E2, 790 / P1, 630 / X375 3, 810 1.61 GB/s / 307 MB/s Razer Blade Stealth (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5, 131 3, 445 E2, 788 / P1, 599 / X426 3, 442 1.5 GB/s / 307 MB/s Since Alienware is one of the most recognizable brand in PC gaming, I expect its laptops to keep pace with everything in my game library with minimal fuss. I was not disappointed here. With a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics and 16GB of RAM, my review unit played almost every game I tried on high or ultra settings at the screen’s native 2, 560 x 1, 440 resolution. Overwatch and Dishonored 2 easily broke 60 frames per second with maximum resolution and visual settings, while games like Battlefield 1, Just Cause 3 and Shadow Warrior 2 could be coaxed past the 60-fps barrier by either scaling settings down to high or dialing resolution back to the standard 1080p. The usual suspects gave the machine a bit of pause, however. The Witcher 3 had to be restricted to medium settings to hit higher frame rates at the PC’s native resolution, and Resident Evil 7 suffered from noticeable slowdown until I dialed it back to medium texture quality at 1080p. That’s about right for a smaller form gaming laptop, but it’s also just skirting the edge of playing newer games at maximum fidelity. Keep you games tuned just one step below their highest settings (or crank it to 11, but settle for 1080p), and you’ll be fine. Virtual reality may not have hit the mainstream just yet, but if you do decide to pick up an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset, the Alienware 13 will serve you just fine. With a score of 5, 985 in VRMark’s Orange Room benchmark (and 1, 091 in its more intensive Blue Room test), Alienware’s smallest notebook is definitely VR ready — so long as you leave most games at their default settings. Like the Razer Blade Pro and ASUS ROG Strix, it ran everything in my VR library just fine until I cranked up resolution multipliers in titles like Raw Data . Battery life Alienware 13 7:32 Surface Book with Performance Base (2016) 16:15 Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, no Touch Bar) 11:42 HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2015) 11:34 Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015) 11:23 Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (15-inch) 11:00 HP Spectre x360 15t 10:17 Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, Touch Bar) 9:55 ASUS ZenBook 3 9:45 Apple MacBook (2016) 8:45 Samsung Notebook 9 8:16 Microsoft Surface Pro 4 7:15 HP Spectre 13 7:07 Razer Blade Stealth (Spring 2016) 5:48 Razer Blade Stealth (Fall 2016) 5:36 Dell XPS 15 (2016) 5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger) Razer Blade Pro (2016) 3:48 ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS 3:03 I’ve never used a gaming laptop that wasn’t powerful enough to handle my Engadget workload. The problem has always been battery life — what good is a machine that can handle half a dozen tabbed browser windows, work chat and Adobe Photoshop and Premiere if it dies after only a few hours? Most gaming machines struggle to break four hours in Engadget’s standard battery test. The Alienware 13, on the other hand, lasted over seven and a half. True, our video-based rundown test is well suited to play nice with the processor’s Kaby Lake’s video features, but that longevity panned out in casual use too. During my normal workday, the Alienware 13 regularly lasted five to six hours on a charge. That’s still leagues behind even an average productivity notebook, but for a gaming machine? It’s not bad. Software The days of buying a new PC with bloatware are pretty much behind us, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for improvement. While the Alienware 13 doesn’t tack on any extra software besides its own AlienFX configuration tool, an audio manager for handling the laptop’s Virtual Surround mode and a bandwidth management application, it does pester the user with annoying pop ups — and too often. Just minutes after I had opened the laptop for the first time, the Alienware software suite asked me to rate my experience with the machine. Gee, I don’t know what my experience is yet. I only just opened the box. It’s not uncommon for software to beg users to register, rate or update it, but Alienware’s suite played this card too often, and too soon. It’s far from a dealbreaker, and the pop-ups dropped off after a day or two. Even so, repeated, nagging interruptions took a lot of joy away from my first moments with the machine. Nobody likes a needy notebook. Configuration options and the competition My $1, 831 review unit is just shy of the most powerful configuration Dell offers for the Alienware 13, with its aforementioned 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 6GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512 GB PCIe SSD. Tacking on an extra $150 will double the RAM to 32GB, and users can upgrade to one or two 1TB SSD drives for $400 and $1, 150, respectively. Adding the slightly longer-range version of the laptop’s wireless chip (Kill 1535) will add an additional $25 to the total, with the most expensive Alienware 13 configuration ringing in at $3, 156. Storage space is expensive, isn’t it? Dell’s customization tool lets users create endless price points, but Alienware’s default configurations offer plenty of variety for folks looking for a cheaper gaming rig. A machine with half as much storage and RAM as our review unit can be had for $1, 650, for instance — and downgrading its OLED display to a 1080p IPS screen will knock off an additional $250. Buyers willing to settle for a 180GB SSD and a less powerful Geforce GTX 1050Ti GPU (with just 2GB GDDR5) can score the machine for $1, 150. Lastly, a bottom-dollar build is available for $1, 000, but that means knocking the GPU down another notch to a regular GTX 1050 and settling for a dimmer 1, 366 x 768 display. If you’re thinking of going with another brand (and don’t mind missing out on that OLED screen), it’s a good time to be shopping around; Alienware isn’t the only company to upgrade its gaming rigs with Kaby Lake processors. Gigabyte’s Aero 14 can be had with the same specs as our Alienware 13 review unit for $1, 750 with a larger 14-inch 2, 560 x 1440 IPS display and a slightly thinner profile. You can get the same internals in an even slimmer profile in the Razer Blade’s $2, 400 aluminum chassis — with a higher resolution 4K screen, to boot. That said, if you want variety, you’ll have to settle for a slightly larger chassis. Most gaming laptops are more in-line with machines like the ASUS Strix : 15 inches wide at minimum and at least half an inch thick. Wrap-up When friends come to me asking for a laptop recommendation, I usually try to lead them through a process of figuring out what features they need, what size they want and figuring out what fits in their budget before offering them a shortlist of different options from different manufacturers. When they don’t feel like doing the work, however, I usually shrug and tell them to look at Alienware. There’s a reason for that. Dell’s gaming brand has a history of making well built gaming machines with great design and excellent performance that are a joy to use. The Alienware 13 is no exception. If you’re overwhelmed by the dizzying array of choices available to you as a PC gamer, but still want to be sure you’re getting a high-quality machine, Alienware’s latest won’t let you down.

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Snail venom provides a new way to treat chronic pain

Posted by kenmay on February - 22 - 2017

The Conus regius’ venom is bad news for its prey, and it’s been proven harmful to humans as well. For instance, a 2009 clinical case describes a diver who had trouble moving his arm for 12 hours after an attack. However, scientists from the University of Utah see hope in the ocean dweller’s powerful venom. In fact, research suggests it could be used to develop a new treatment for chronic pain. This could mean a viable alternative to opioids , which are widely abused in the US. New York officials reported the number of deaths related to Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and other narcotic medications in the state was 1, 227 in 2013 , nearly four times the amount in 2004. These drugs are addictive because they overstimulate the brain’s reward system with dopamine, which leads to chemical dependence. However, a compound isolated from the venom, Rg1A, works differently, according to The University of Utah . The newly discovered compound blocks a type of pain pathway receptor known as nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR). This is a non-opioid pathway, meaning that pain relief can be achieved without habit-forming amounts of narcotics. In tests, rodents were treated with chemotherapy drugs, which made them very sensitive to cold and touch. Some of the rats were injected with the compound, and unlike their unmedicated peers, didn’t feel pain. The effects proved to be long-lasting, too. The compound passed through the rats’ bodies in about four hours, but the researchers found that it continued to dull pain a full three days after the injection. This has J. Michael McIntosh, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences, optimistic about Rg1A’s potential not to just treat pain, but to prevent it. “Once chronic pain has developed, it is difficult to treat, ” he said . “This compound offers a potential new pathway to prevent pain from developing in the first place and offer a new therapy to patients who have run out of options.” Current pain-relief drugs work primarily on opioid-based pathways and aren’t effective enough to truly alleviate chronic pain, the university notes. These developments make it possible to treat chronic pain by targeting it through different means. Assuming human testing goes well, we could see the use of narcotics drop and the rise of pain-free patients rise. Source: The University of Utah

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