Tech Today w/ Ken May

Archive for July, 2017

Ever since our close look at an alleged render of the next iPhone back in May, there have been rumors of 3D face scanning plus a large screen-to-body ratio flying about. Today, we finally bring you some solid evidence about these features, courtesy of — surprise, surprise — Apple itself. After digging up new details about the Apple HomePod in its leaked firmware , iOS developer Steve Troughton-Smith came across some code that confirm the use of infrared face unlock in BiometricKit for the next iPhone. More interestingly, in the same firmware, fellow developer Guilherme Rambo found an icon that suggests a near-bezel-less design — one that matches rumored schematics going as far back as late May. For those in doubt, Troughton-Smith assured us that this icon is “specific to D22, the iPhone that has Pearl (Face ID).” These discoveries are by far the best hints at what to expect from the “iPhone 8, ” which is expected to launch later this year . Additionally, we also learnt from our exclusive render that the phone may feature a glass back along with wireless charging this time. That said, there’s still no confirmation on the fate of Touch ID: while the HomePod firmware code seems to suggest that it’s sticking around, there’s no indication as to whether it’s ditching the usual Home button execution in favor of an under-display fingerprint scanner (as shown off by Qualcomm and Vivo at MWC Shanghai). Given how poorly Apple has been guarding the secrets of its next smartphone this time round, chances are we’ll hear more very soon. I can confirm reports that HomePod’s firmware reveals the existence of upcoming iPhone’s infra-red face unlock in BiometricKit and elsewhere pic.twitter.com/yLsgCx7OTZ — Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) July 31, 2017 Me too. New bezel-less form factor as well pic.twitter.com/Y0RrSOk2OO — Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) July 31, 2017 Source: Steve Troughton-Smith , Guilherme Rambo

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Genetic engineering creates an unnaturally blue flower

Posted by kenmay on July - 31 - 2017

Blue flowers are rare in nature, and for good reason: the color is usually the result of mutations and quirks of acidity levels rather than an actual blue pigment. That makes genetically engineering a blue flower tricky, since you can’t just make a straightforward tweak and expect a garden full of unnatural hues. Scientists have just managed a breakthrough, though. They’ve produced the first truly blue chrysanthemum (above) by splicing in genes from two naturally blue flowers, the butterfly pea and Canterbury bell. The modifications shifted the plant’s acidity level, turning normally reddish pigments to the blue you see above. The approach is generic enough that you could theoretically apply it to other flowering plants. Blue roses, anyone? There are broader possibilities, too. While the exact techniques clearly won’t translate to other lifeforms, this might hint at what’s required to produce blue eyes or feathers. And these color changes would be useful for more than just cosmetics. Pollinating insects tend to prefer blue, so this could help spread plant life that has trouble competing in a given habitat. Just don’t count on picking up a blue bouquet. You need a permit to sell any genetically modified organism in the US, and there’s a real concern that these gene-modified flowers might spread and create havoc in local ecosystems. The research team hopes to make tweaked chrysanthemums that don’t breed, but that also means you’re unlikely to see them widely distributed even if they do move beyond the lab. Any public availability would likely hinge on a careful understanding of the flowers’ long-term impact. Via: New York Times Source: Science Advances

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Nota bene: This is the concluding part of the surprisingly interesting history of the IBM PC. You should probably read part one of the story if you haven’t already. In November 1979, Microsoft’s frequent partner Seattle Computer Products released a standalone Intel 8086 motherboard for hardcore hobbyists and computer manufacturers looking to experiment with this new and very powerful CPU. The 8086 was closely related to the 8088 that IBM chose for the PC; the latter was a cost-reduced version of the former, an 8-bit/16-bit hybrid chip rather than a pure 16-bit like the 8086. Read 44 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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In a piece describing the paranoid vibe in Las Vegas during the DEFCON convention, CNET reported Friday that the Wet Republic web site “had two images vandalized” with digital graffiti. But their reporter now writes that “my paranoia finally got the best of me, and it turned out to be an ad campaign.” The images included a scribbled beard and eye patch on a photo of bikini model, along with the handwritten message “It’s all out war.” CNET’s updated story now reports that “It looked like a prank you’d see from a mischievous hacker…” When I spotted the vandalism on the Wet Republic site Friday morning, it looked like other attacks I’d seen throughout the week, such as a Blue Screen of Death on a bus ticket machine… Hakkasan, which hosts the event at MGM Grand, said the “vandalism” was part of the cheeky advertisements for a seasonal bikini contest it’s been running since 2015. The “all-out war” is between the models in the competition, not between hackers and clubs. Hakkasan’s spokeswoman said nothing on its network has been compromised. So maybe not everything online in Las Vegas is getting hacked this week, and this n00b learned to calm down the hard way. For that matter, maybe that blue screen of death was also just another random Windows machine crashing. CNET’s reporter made one other change to his article. He removed the phrase “when hackers are in town for Defcon, everything seems to be fair game.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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AMD has been content to cater to budget gamers with its graphics cards over the past couple of years, but it’s ready to play in the big leagues once again. After plenty of leaks and no shortage of hype (Apple even name-dropped AMD at the iMac Pro debut), the chip giant has unveiled GPUs based on its high-end Vega architecture. The Radeon RX Vega series touts processors with numerous tweaks that promise to finally give AMD performance comparable to NVIDIA’s higher-end offerings, including updated geometry and pixel engines, a high-bandwidth cache controller and support for multiple data operations per cycle. Overall, Vega promises twice the throughput per clock cycle and twice the memory bandwidth per pin of earlier Radeon hardware — not the highest bar to clear given AMD’s recent lack of top-end cards, but still a huge improvement. AMD isn’t providing the most extensive benchmarks to go with the Vega launch, but its emphasis is on baseline performance over peak frame rates. Its highest-end models should offer a minimum of 53 frames per second when playing numerous games on an ultra-wide 1440p monitor, which is comfortably higher than the 45 of NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1080. AMD is almost certainly cherry-picking tests that favor its design (what about maximum FPS or 4K gameplay?), but it’s reasonable to say that its fastest GPUs are at least competitive with those of its arch-rival, which is more than we could say for a long, long while. Thankfully, the firm isn’t leaning on speeds alone to reel you in. The RX Vega line can handle single-cable 5K displays, which are hard to find outside of the Mac ecosystem . A software plugin gives you the first hardware-accelerated playback for 4K VR video. And if you spring for the most advanced board, you’ll get liquid cooling that promises both more headroom for overclocking and a quieter PC. You might pay for more than you were expecting, though. The line starts off with the usual stand-alone cards, including the $399 Radeon RX Vega 56 (named for its 56 compute units) and $499 Vega 64 Air Cooled (logically, 64 compute units). However, AMD is pushing the concept of Radeon Packs that bundle two games (in the US, Prey and Wolfenstein II ) and discounts on the prices of both a Samsung ultra-wide monitor as well as a Ryzen 7 -plus-motherboard combo. You’ll need to spend $100 more to get the Vega 56 and 64 Air boards with these packs, and the $699 Vega 64 Liquid Cooled is only available with a Radeon Pack. Also, be prepared to wait a little while: the whole Vega series ships on August 14th. Oh, and the company has one more piece of gamer-focused news in store. Remember that ludicrous 16-core Threadripper processor? It finally has a release date. The $999 beast arrives on August 10th alongside a more modest 12-core CPU ($799), while a ‘low-end’ 8-core part ($549) shows up on August 31st. Threadripper is absolute overkill for most home users and is really meant for people who juggle many apps at once, or just want to show off and have money to burn. However, it was impressive enough that it prompted Intel to fire back with the Core i9 . Clearly, both AMD and Intel see the value in over-the-top core counts, even if it’s just to help sell processors to gamers that insist on the best hardware. Source: AMD (RX Vega) , (Threadripper)

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Enlarge / It looks like science. (credit: Tri Alpha Energy ) If there is one thing I hate, it’s optimization. Computers don’t actually understand what they are optimizing. And that creates problems for everything from bicycles to nuclear fusion. The process goes something like this: you have a mathematical model of a bicycle. You want your bike to perform better, but there are so many things that can be changed, so you can’t imagine finding the best configuration on your own. So you write a script. The script will vary the configuration of the bicycle and evaluate whether it is improved. After many iterations, you have the perfect bike, right? No, you don’t. What you didn’t imagine was that the computer would remove the seat. Or that it would place, for no apparent reason, a third wheel between the (now removed) saddle and handlebars. Even worse, the stupid machine has got the chain passing through a bit of solid steel. Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Document Foundation has released LibreOffice 5.4. Again, it’s on time, arriving six months after the release of LibreOffice 5.3. From a report: LibreOffice 5.4 is “the last major release of the LibreOffice 5.x family, ” and like other point releases is a major one, adding features across all components and incrementally improving compatibility with Microsoft Office document formats. Highlights include a new standard color palette based on the RYB (Red Yellow Blue) color model. File format compatibility improvements include better support for EMF vector images and higher quality rendering of imported PDF files (with support for embedding video in exported PDFs from Writer and Impress). Also added is OpenPGP key support for signing ODF documents in Linux. LibreOffice Writer adds new context menu items for working with sections, footnotes, endnotes and styles. Users can now import AutoText entries from Microsoft Word .dotm templates. The full structure of bulleted and numbered lists is now preserved when pasted as plain text, and users gain the ability to create custom watermarks for their documents via the Format menu. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A couple of days ago Microsoft enabled a feature that lets Android users easily use the share button to push a web page from their cell phone to a Windows 10 PC. Now, it’s released an app to manage the same feature on iOS-powered devices. It’s available to users in the “Fast” ring of its Insiders preview program, who will need the latest build released for their PCs. Cross-device web browsing is one of the many features coming in the Fall Creators Update , and every new feature being beta tested means its release date keeps creeping closer. Hey #WindowsInsiders ‘Continue on PC’ for iPhone is now available! Send web browsing sessions from iPhone to PC! https://t.co/5oI90KfBKj — Vishnu Nath (@VishnuNath) July 28, 2017 Source: iTunes , Windows Experience Blog

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Samsung topples Intel as world’s largest chipmaker

Posted by kenmay on July - 28 - 2017

Samsung registered a record profit of $12.6 billion in its second quarter earnings report, but hidden in those numbers lies another milestone. Of its $54 billion in revenue, $15 billion came solely from Samsung Semiconductors — pushing it above the $14.8 billion that all of Intel brought in. In short: Samsung just ended Intel’s 24-year-reign and became the largest chipmaker in the world. But Samsung didn’t get there by outselling processors — it’s been diversifying its chip offerings for years. While Intel has focused on CPUs for computers and servers after burying its wearables division last November, Samsung has broadened into making chips for mobile devices, as well as connected chips for IoT and smart vehicles. But the company also got ahead of Intel on the strength of its flash memory with more popular SSD products. Intel isn’t giving up on the rivalry, and claimed its next generation of long-delayed Cannon Lake 10nm chips will feature twice as many transistors as Samsung’s or TMSC’s, putting them “light years” ahead. Via: Sam Mobile Source: Samsung Second Quarter 201 Earnings , Intel Second Quarter Earnings (PDF)

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Fontgate strikes again. Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif has stepped down following a Supreme Court order disqualifying him from holding office. The ruling also called for anti-corruption cases against Sharif and his family. After proving pivotal to the probe that led to today’s decision, Microsoft’s Calibri font could also make an appearance in the next stage of proceedings. The innocent typeset was dragged into the turmoil in Pakistan last month. Back then, Sharif’s daughter (and heir apparent) Maryam Nawaz was accused of submitting forged documents to the Supreme Court-instituted panel probing her family’s financial assets. In its report, the investigation team said the documents from 2006 were deemed fake because they were in the Calibri font — which wasn’t publicly available until 2007. Moments after the panel’s findings were released, the internet (being the internet) blew up with jokes about #Fontgate. The Pakistani Twitterverse latched on to the term, using it to lampoon Sharif and his aides. The media also got in on the act, even going so far as to interview Calibri’s creator Lucas De Groot. And, arguably, the best result to come from it all: a reference to the investigation made it on to the font’s Wikipedia page . Fast-forward to today’s historic decision. Alongside the PM’s dismissal, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the country’s anti-corruption body to file references against Sharif and others. The evidence collected by the original investigative panel (including that document) will be used in the subsequent cases in accountability courts. As it currently stands, Pakistan is left without a PM, and is also set to lose its finance minister (who was also disqualified in today’s order). Sharif’s ruling party, which holds the majority in parliament, will now choose his successor. Whoever takes over won’t be in for an easy ride. Not a single PM in Pakistan’s history has served a full term in office.

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