Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for May, 2017

The practice of hacking standard Super Mario World cartridges on stock Super Nintendo hardware has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, it required a robot entering thousands of button presses per second to insert arbitrary code on top of the game. By last year, streamer SethBling was proving that this kind of code insertion was possible for a human acting with pixel-perfect precision. Now, SethBling and others in the SMW hacking community have taken things a step further, permanently writing a full hex editor and gameplay mods onto a stock Super Mario World cartridge using nothing but standard controller inputs. SethBling’s ten-minute video explaining the entire “jailbreaking” process is a must-watch for anyone interested in the particulars of perpetually altering a 25-year-old game without any special hardware. In short, the jailbreak builds on an exploit discovered by Cooper Harrsyn that lets players write data directly to the small, 256-byte save files that are permanently stored on the Super Mario World cartridge. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Controversy over DNA sequencing of 90 Egyptian mummies

Posted by kenmay on May - 31 - 2017

One of the most hotly-contested fields of genetics revolves around the genetic lineage of ancient Egyptians. A new study of 90 Pre-Ptolemaic, Ptolemaic, and Roman mummies raises as many questions as it answers. (more…)

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PCs are making a comeback, if the news out of Computex 2017 is any indication, and Microsoft wants to make sure they’re all constantly connected . To support that vision, Intel is making its current and future modems compatible with e-SIMs, so future laptops can connect to LTE networks without physical SIM-card trays. That’s because the technology you’d typically find in a SIM card will be embedded into its modems, so you can connect your machine just by entering a phone number and avoid having to fiddle with a tiny tray. The chip maker says it is working on validating “e-SIM-enabled always-connected platforms with multiple carriers using the Intel XMMTM 7260 modem and our upcoming Intel XMM 7360 modem.” At its keynote, Microsoft announced a slew of carriers that will support the e-SIM devices, including T-Mobile, AT&T, Vodafone and other international service providers. The always connected PC project is another part of the two brands’ Project Evo collaboration to deliver Windows devices across multiple product categories. So this could mean e-SIM-enabled speakers or VR headsets in future, too. Click here to catch up on the latest news from Computex 2017!

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Tabletop Audio: ambient loops for your RPGs

Posted by kenmay on May - 31 - 2017

“Role-players, boardgamers, writers, coders, artists, graphic designers, teachers, house-cleaners, lucid dreamers, gym-rats, distance runners, commuters” can enjoy over 100 ambient atmospheric loops with names like “Orbital Promenade,” “Lunar Outpost,” “Testing Chamber” and so on. (more…)

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WD’s next-gen SSDs add even more speed and capacity

Posted by kenmay on May - 31 - 2017

Hard disk specialist Western Digital (WD) acquired SSD maker SanDisk last year for a colossal $19 billion, and now we’re getting some idea as to its strategy. The company unveiled two new lineups — branded under each company’s names — that feature the first SSDs to use 64-layer 3D NAND chips developed by SanDisk. The new, higher capacity chips will allow for “lower power consumption and higher performance, endurance and capacities, ” Western Digital wrote in its press release . The two lines, WD Blue and SanDisk Ultra 3D, are identical capacity-wise, use the same controllers and have identical performance specs — though WD Blue also offers a M.2 2280 device that SanDisk doesn’t. All of the 256GB drives, both in 2.5-inch and M.2 formats, start at a very reasonable $100. They also come in 500GB, 1TB and 2TB sizes, but WD hasn’t listed prices for those items yet. That information will be particularly interesting, since the drives require fewer chips than rival SSDs, which will hopefully drive down the prices. As for the performance, it’s pretty, pretty good. The larger capacity devices can read at 550 MB/s and write 560 MB/s, and the 256GB SSD is just a touch slower (550 MB/s and 525 MB/s). Perhaps more importantly, all products have a mean time to failure (MTTF) of 1.75 million hours. WD says that’s “industry-leading, ” but it falls behind some products, including Samsung’s (more expensive) 850 Pro , which sports a two million hour MTBF. WD gave a pretty good clue as to why it’s offering identical products under different labels. “Between our two strong brands in SanDisk and WD, and their respective loyal customer bases and distribution channels, these advanced SSDs will appeal to a very broad [range of consumers], ” said WD CEO Mike Cordano. In other words, WD has huge stores of goodwill in both brands, and it’s not willing to give that up to save some marketing costs. Source: Western Digital

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From Tallahassee, Florida’s Lofty Pursuits who offer these “handmade artisinal candies” at $6 for a 2.75oz bag: A new technique for a new effect in our image candies. These Crystal Roses are formed from nothing but hot sugar, and flavors. This is the first in a series of candies using this kind of design.

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Ridley Scott pauses his iconic in-camera chestburster scene in several places to show the tricks he used to make it so memorable. (more…)

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Determining how to prevent acts of censorship has long been a priority for the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, and thanks to new research from the Harvard Center for Internet and Society, the foundation seems to have found a solution: encryption. From a report: HTTPS prevents governments and others from seeing the specific page users are visiting. For example, a government could tell that a user is browsing Wikipedia, but couldn’t tell that the user is specifically reading the page about Tiananmen Square. Up until 2015, Wikipedia offered its service using both HTTP and HTTPS, which meant that when countries like Pakistan or Iran blocked the certain articles on the HTTP version of Wikipedia, the full version would still be available using HTTPS. But in June 2015, Wikipedia decided to axe HTTP access and only offer access to its site with HTTPS. The Harvard researchers began by deploying an algorithm which detected unusual changes in Wikipedia’s global server traffic for a year beginning in May 2015. This data was then combined with a historical analysis of the daily request histories for some 1.7 million articles in 286 different languages from 2011 to 2016 in order to determine possible censorship events. After a painstakingly long process of manual analysis of potential censorship events, the researchers found that, globally, Wikipedia’s switch to HTTPS had a positive effect on the number censorship events by comparing server traffic from before and after the switch in June of 2015. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Based on NVIDIA’s 2017 Computex announcements, PC gamers won’t have to choose between bulky gaming laptops and desktop-level processing power for much longer. A new design called “Max-Q” is arriving in new laptops that it claims are both 3x thinner and 3x more powerful than their predecessors — think 18mm thick, 5 pounds and with the power of NVIDIA’s GTX 1080 inside. Plus, there’s “WhisperMode, ” which can pace the game’s framerate to keep the laptop cool and quiet during a plugged-in gaming session. When the new laptops roll out beginning June 27th , the top of the line options well outpace current options like Razer’s GTX 1060-powered 4K Blade . There aren’t specific benchmarks listed, but a graph on the official website claims an average 1.8x performance increase over GTX1060 when running “AAA” titles at 4K. During the demo, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang showed off a 5-lb laptop running Project Cars 2 , saying it was 60 percent faster than the PS4 Pro. NVIDIA says that they’re not only engineered to be thin and light across the “chip, drivers, thermal and electrical components, ” but that its software optimizes settings and the workload across CPU/GPU to regulate power and heat. They aren’t all super powerful however, with models on the way from “Acer, Aftershock, Alienware, ASUS, Clevo, Dream Machine, ECT, Gigabyte, Hasee, HP, LDLC, Lenovo, Machenike, Maingear, Mechrevo, MSI, Multicom, Origin PC, PC Specialist, Sager, Scan, Terrans Force, Tronic’5, and XoticPC, ” they will include GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 level GPUs inside. Source: NVIDIA Blog , NVIDIA

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Intel’s Core i9 Extreme Edition CPU is an 18-core beast

Posted by kenmay on May - 30 - 2017

Last year at Computex, Intel unveiled its first 10-core consumer CPU , the company’s move into the world of a “megatasking.” It was a pricey chip, launching at around $1, 700, but it satisfied the needs for users who needed to juggle several intensive tasks at once. Now, Intel is upping the ante with a whole new family of processors for enthusiasts, the Core X-series, and it’s spearheaded by its first 18-core CPU, the i9-7980XE. Priced at $1, 999, the 7980XE is clearly not a chip you’d see in an average desktop. Instead, it’s more of a statement from Intel. It beats out AMD’s 16-core Threadripper CPU , which was slated to be that company’s most powerful consumer processor for 2017. And it gives Intel yet another way to satisfy the demands of power-hungry users who might want to do things like play games in 4K while broadcasting them in HD over Twitch. And as if its massive core count wasn’t enough, the i9-7980XE is also the first Intel consumer chip that packs in over a teraflop worth of computing power. If 18 cores is a bit too rich for you, Intel also has other Core i9 Extreme Edition chips in 10, 12, 14 and 16-core variants. Perhaps the best news for hardware geeks: the 10 core i9-7900X will retail for $999, a significant discount from last year’s version. All of the i9 chips feature base clock speeds of 3.3GHz, reaching up to 4.3GHz dual-core speeds with Turbo Boost 2.0 and 4.5GHz with Turbo Boost 3.0. And speaking of Turbo Boost 3.0, its performance has also been improved in the new Extreme Edition chips to increase both single and dual-core speeds. Rounding out the X-Series family are the quad-core i5-7640X and i7 models in 4, 6 and 8-core models. While it might all seem like overkill, Intel says its Core i9 lineup was driven by the surprising demand for last year’s 10-core chip. “Broadwell-E was kind of an experiment, ” an Intel rep said. “It sold… Proving that our enthusiast community will go after the best of the best… Yes we’re adding higher core count, but we’re also introducing lower core counts. Scalability on both ends are what we went after.” As you can imagine, stuffing more cores into a processor leads to some significant heat issues. For that reason, Intel developed its own liquid cooling solution, which will work across these new chips, as well as some previous generations. All of the new Core i9 processors, along with the 6 and 8-core i7 chips, feature scorching hot 140W thermal design points (TDPs), the maximum amount of power that they’ll draw. That’s the same as last year’s 10-core CPU, but it’s still well above the 91W TDP from Intel’s more affordable i7-7700K. Over the past few years, Intel’s laptop chips have been far more interesting than its desktop CPUs. Partially, that’s because the rise of ultraportables and convertible laptops have shifted its focus away from delivering as much computing power as possible, to offering a reasonable amount of processing power efficiently. The new Core i9 X-series processors might not be feasible for most consumers, but for the hardware geeks who treat their rigs like hot rods, they’re a dream come true.

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