US Air Force Broke the Maglev World Speed Record

The US Air Force’s 846th Test Squadron has had a lot of practice when it comes to both breaking records and magnetic levitation. As well as setting the initial record a number of years ago, they have already broken the world speed record for a vehicle operated using magnetic levitation, or “maglev”, twice this year. The record attempts saw the squadron accelerating their rocket-powered maglev sled to 513 mph and later 633 mph at the Holloman Air Force Base.

The vehicle that made the record attempts is a 2,000-pound rocket-powered sled that is kept aloft purely using maglev technology. It is levitated by super-conductive magnets cooled by liquid helium and then boosted up to the record-breaking speeds using a series of powerful rockets that provide acceleration of up to 923 feet per second. This is far from the only use of maglev technology, with more practical applications such as levitating trains already capable of reaching speeds of 370 mph, but the 846th’s levitating sled is a unique vehicle itself.

This isn’t the end of the record attempts either, with Shawn Morgenstern, the commander of the 846th Test Squadron stating that “what we plan to do after this test is refine the design of the sled itself.” “We want to look at some lighter materials and continue to see what kind of capability we can get out of this system in terms of the speeds that we’re capable of going” he said. How fast they will be able to make a rocket sled remains unknown, but it is exciting to see how these technologies continue to push the boundaries.

Material Design UI Overhaul In Chrome OS Version 50

A few months ago, we got a sneak peek at how the Chrome web browser would look following a design overhaul to match Google’s Material Design aesthetic. Now, Chrome version 50 has begun to be deployed to a number of platforms, but for Chrome OS users, this milestone release will also see a complete Material Design makeover according to Sebastian Gabriel, a senior designer at Google.

Material Design is Google’s unifying company-wide style guidelines that started to be deployed to the company’s many products starting with Android 5.0 Lollipop. For Chrome users, the design changes are very minimal and the UI will function in mostly the same way, with many of the adjustments being purely visual. On the whole, the UI makes use of more flat colours, doing away with many of the shadows and gradients that used to feature in the UI.

Chrome OS users will be pleased to know the changes aren’t just skin deep, with the update also increasing performance behind the scenes. The Material Design UI is reportedly rendered fully programmatically, which allows a large number of image resource files to be unnecessary and the UI being based on vectors allows it to scale better to super widescreen and other unconventional screen resolutions.

The update to this new version will be automatic for Chrome OS users while users on Windows and Mac may have to wait a little longer for the final version of the Material UI for Chrome. For those willing to give it a try early using Chrome Canary and accessing “Chrome://flags”, where they will find the ability to enable Material Design. As before this is just a preview and users may run into bugs and the UI is still subject to change.

Bug Found in The Division That Lets Players do Unlimited Damage

Tom Clancy’s The Division has enjoyed enormous popularity since its release, despite the almost constant existence of issues that have plagued players. Now, a new exploit has been found in the shooter that effectively breaks the game by allowing players to do potentially unlimited damage, making PvE trivial and destroying the PvP ‘Dark Zone’ areas.

The bug is based around the use of the “competent” talent, which boosts damage output after another ability is triggered. This can be found on a number of weapons, but can most easily be gotten from a high-end AK-74 purchasable at a special gear vendor at the Base of Operations. With this (or another qualifying weapon) all you have to do is switch back and forth between the gun and any other weapon for some time causing competent’s DPS boost to stack on each switch. After switching the weapons for a number of minutes, the damage boost becomes enormous, capable of temporarily boosting damage by as much as 10 times over, with Youtuber Simplified showing his weapon going from 10,000 damage per shot to 100,000 with the talent active.

This bug has enormous potential for abuse in both PvE and PvP, with players able to kill difficult bosses with relative ease and effortlessly kill any player who crosses them with a single shot. While PvE uses of the exploit have relatively low impact on other players, this bug may drive many out of the PvP Dark Zone areas for fear they will be killed with ease by users of the exploit. It isn’t just the competent talent with the issue either, with players reporting a number of other pieces of equipment are able to stack their talent activations by swapping it on and off making players able to earn millions of credits for a single headshot, amongst other things.

It is reasonable to assume that Ubisoft will be giving abusers of this exploit the same treatment as in the past, with many people likely to face a ban should they have been found to be using the glitch. How long it will remain unpatched though still remains to be seen, but there may be a distinct drop off in players in the PvP zones until a hotfix is released.

Facebook Considering Monetization of Posts Using “Tip Jars”

 

A Facebook user survey distributed this week has shown the social media giant is looking at ways for users to be able to profit from their posts according to The Verge. Some of the features being considered that would allow for the monetization of posts or the ability to promote your posts include a tip jar, branded content and even the ability to take a cut of Facebook’s ad revenue from your posts. Another idea that users were asked for their opinion was a “call to action” button which would let followers make donations and a “sponsor marketplace” which would allow users to match themselves with providers of related advertisements.

Currently, Facebook includes no avenues for individual users to earn money from the posts they make on Facebook, although publishers have been able to sell advertisement space inside of their Instant Articles format and brand sponsored posts are able to be shared on verified pages. Facebook is also testing new (and possibly intrusive) ways to introduce ad revenue into content on the site.

A number of social sites already offer ways in which users and content creators can profit from the ad revenue that their content generates, with YouTube allowing channel owners to earn money based on the views of monetized videos and the game streaming service Twitch partnering with popular streamers to allow them to earn money from subscriptions, running advertisements and merchandise sales. It is likely that Facebook, which values itself on real-time sharing, has seen the success of these programs and wants to offer their users a chance at earning money in the hopes it will draw more people to post higher quality content on the site.

When you consider the huge valuations of social media sites, the fact that very few of their users are paid for the content that contributes to it, it makes sense to offer some kind of reward schemes for top contributors, lest they migrate to other platforms in time. Whether this move to monetization could improve or worsen Facebook remains to be seen, as the plans are only conceptual. The questions regarding monetization are just a small portion of the survey focusing on users use of their profile pages, what they share and the makeup of their friends on the site.

Android Security Report Published by Google

Compared to Apple and their almost uncrackable iOS, security on Android has always seemed poor. Despite the constant security patches, it seems like Google’s mobile OS is fraught with security flaws with new flaws like Stagefright appearing and reappearing with troubling frequency. Google don’t agree with this image, however, and their second annual Android security report seems to back up their stance that Android is, in fact, quite secure.

The majority of the issues identified with their security came from apps not loaded through the Google Play Store. Between 2014 and 2015, attempts to load malware through the Play Store dropped drastically with only 0.15 percent of users being infected with rogue code from the app platform. When you compare this to the 0.5 percent of all Android users that have been hit with malicious code, it shows an increase in attempts to attack Android devices without going through the Play Store.

Lead engineer of Android Security, Adrian Ludwig, released a few snippets of data to illustrate the lengths Google go to in order to keep Android secure.

  • Google checks six billion installed apps daily for malware (Potentially Harmful Apps in Google’s parlance).
  • A total of 400 million devices per day are scanned for network-based and on-device threats.

Android’s security is only set to improve too, with the monthly security updates able to respond to new threats quickly after they emerge. Google are also pushing for device manufacturers to keep up to date with the monthly updates that are automatically rolled out to their Nexus devices.

The full 2015 security report is 48 pages long and can be found on Google’s website.

Pyre – Bastion’s Developers Announce Their Next Game

Today, Supergiant Games who are responsible for Bastion and Transistor, announced their newest game, Pyre, as well as a trailer that gives a glimpse into the game’s style and gameplay. This is the third game to be developed by the studio and has been described by the developers as a “party-based RPG”.

Pyre’s story is centered around a small group of exiles, which the player must lead through a series of trials that will allow them to be free to return to their home. Supergiant Games expect to be releasing Pyre some time in 2017 and details regarding the game are thin on the ground, with nothing but the announcement trailer and a statement by the developers to go on.

“Pyre once again showcases our team’s commitment to rich atmospheric presentation and storytelling, along with a distinctive gameplay blend that combines expressive decision-making on the world map with fast, action-packed confrontations against rival groups of exiles whose own freedom is at stake. We want to create a large cast of characters you can grow close to as you travel together across a strange and wondrous land.

“The Story So Far: At the beginning of the game, your luck has almost run out when several masked wanderers find you and revive you from the brink. With your help, they seek to learn the truth about the Rites, a secretive competition through which the worthiest exiles can return home, absolved of their transgressions. As you journey across the Downside in the wanderers’ custom blackwagon, you’ll meet a variety of characters of all shapes and sizes, and learn what’s in store for each of them should they prevail in the Rites. Your actions will determine who returns to glory, and who remains in exile to the end of their days.”

Considering the track record of Supergiant Games, Pyre should be a game to look forward to next year, with a beautiful and striking artstyle and hopefully a little bit of the magic that made Bastion and Transistor as popular as they are. The game is planned to have its grand reveal at PAX East later this week, where more details of the game and its gameplay may emerge, with a playable demo expected to be at the event.

Unreleased Half-Life 2 Concept Art Leaked Online

Many years ago, Valve released the Half-Life 2 concept art book, Raising the Bar. Now, images from the publisher’s proof version of the artbook are appearing online, which is sure to please the many of the fans of the series out there.

The version of the book containing this before-unseen artwork is from a very limited production run of the book before the final edits and was made to the 300-page book for its final release and contains as many as 100 additional pages of art and concepts from across the Half-Life series. This highly prized piece of work was purchased online by a US fan of the game for just $45 and since then Russian Half-Life fansite “Half-Life Inside” have been posting small tidbits of the art from the gallery proof online. The new owner of the book also plans to scan and upload the rest, so there is still more to come!

Some of the art is not wholly new, with areas that were cut from the game such as the “Crab Synth” zone from Half-Life 2 had already been discovered by Valve Time, another Half-Life fansite. Outside of the additional art, the changes between the publisher’s proof and release versions of the artbook are minor, with the outstanding modifications including an alternate version of Half-Life 2’s Dr. Breen alongside a photograph of his modelling reference, Roger Guay.

It’s great to see that new secrets and information are still being discovered about the beloved franchise after so long and the art may just have a few “what if” stories to tell. If you’re looking to see the rest of the art for this work, check out Half-Life Inside, where scans will continue to be published and you might just be able to find the next clue for Half-Life 3.

Researchers Create Flexible Camera That Can Wrap Around Objects

If you want to take a 360-degree photograph, you either need a complex and bulky camera rig to do it, or deal with the blurry stitching that often appears in 3D images taken in pieces by smartphones. These limitations could soon be a thing of the past as a team of researchers from the University of Colombia have invented the prototype of a “flexible wallpaper camera” that is capable of wrapping around objects and taking photographs in all directions.

The wallpaper camera is based around the concept of being able to employ flexible lenses that are still able to take images while avoiding the issue of aliasing in incredibly compact lenses. The researchers first identified the properties that were required for a flexible lens requires to show passive optical adaptation and used this knowledge to construct a model of tiny identical lenses made of convex and planar sides and arrayed in a grid layout. The convex side of each lens faced outwards while the planar side was used as the base and the side upon which the detector components of the camera were attached. When the lens array is incredibly compact, the researchers found that it brought on a kind of adaptation that is required for optical anti-aliasing, countering the normal aliasing effect where signals become indistinguishable when sampled.

To tackle this, the lens array was made highly elastic and if constructed correctly, the lens array changes shape and focal length when distorted with the bending forces acting to regulate the aliasing. When combined with a flexible sensor array, the technology is capable of forming a complete sheet of camera says the team. They believe that the next step for the technology is to create a high-resolution lens array that and attaching it to a large format image sensor to create a true high-resolution flexible camera.

The current findings in the team have been published in a document which can be found here.

Image credit to Columbia Engineering.

YouTuber Builds Doom’s BFG Out of Lego

Lego is the defining toy of a number of generations, offering almost unlimited creativity in how it can be used. We’ve seen a complex computer case built entirely from the popular construction toy, but now Youtuber “ZaziNombies” has created a replica of one of the most well-known guns in all of video gaming history, Doom’s BFG 9000.

ZaziNombies has an entire YouTube channel dedicated to his Lego creations, which often focus on a great number of weapons from a huge number of popular franchises. Some of the Lego replicas already under his belt include the nuke-launching Fat Man from Fallout 3, Frostmourne of Warcraft fame and a large number of the guns seen in the Call of Duty series. All of these pale in comparison to the Lego BFG, which is the largest and heaviest gun he has ever built and is an amazingly complex build. The finished model is made from around 5000 individual lego bricks, including a number of translucent and light bricks and weighs in at 20 pounds. The real version may weigh a lot more (if it existed), but that is certainly a lot of weight for a Lego model.

Considering the lack of reference material for the iconic weapon, the level of detail that has gone into the model is incredible and includes a number of smart construction techniques in order to bring the whole thing together. For a full rundown of the model, check out the video below and get a glimpse into how the BFG may look in reality.

Saab Release Amazing Gyro-Stabilized Footage from Jet Fighter

Fighter jets are exciting, able to cruise through the sky at Mach speeds, but this makes it hard to capture truly stable video of them in flight. Despite this, Saab has been able to capture some incredibly smooth footage of their Gripen Jet fighter courtesy of a gyro-stabilized camera system developed by a Gyro-Stabilized Systems (GSS) at the behest of the Swedish firm, Blue Sky.

Blue Sky commissioned GSS to construct the stabilizer as their own client, Saab Defense, and Security required high-quality still and motion captures of their Gripen jet fighter in action. Most stabilization systems that are available on the market are only usable on helicopters and at speeds of up to 125 knots, which was insufficient for these jets. The result of GSS’ hard work was a 5-axis gimbal upon which Blue Sky attached a Red Dragon 6K mounted with a Canon 30-300m lens, the entire assembly then connected to a weapon bay on a fighter jet. The system required no cable connectivity between the cockpit and the camera and Aerial DP Peter Degerfeldt, who was in the back seat of a Saab 105 was capable of operating the gyro system using a modem.

Degerfeldt stated, after the first flight that “It was a dream come true.” “It couldn’t have gone better, no problem what so ever at those speeds, both in panning or even looking straight down,” he said. During the first test flight, he was capable of zooming in at 300mm and it remained stable despite traveling at 300 knots in temperatures as low as -20 C. It was even capable of standing up to their attempts to unsettle the system, including high-speed banks and turns, pulling 2.5Gs and even rolling.

The footage itself is almost surreal in how smooth and stable it is as if you are right there on the jet. It really makes you wonder if Top Gun 2 will look this good if it ever materializes.

Meet China’s New Realistic Robot “Jia Jia”

Robots that look like humans are a growing trend in recent times, with a number of organizations showing off their robots that mimic human looks and expressions often in a creepy manner. The latest of these is Jia Jia, a female robot developed by the University of Science and Technology in China, who, while more realistic than many, still lands firmly in the uncanny valley.

Jia Jia is capable of talking with humans in real-time, make a number of preset facial expressions and even detect if an unflattering picture is being taken and tell off the photographer. “Don’t come too close to me when you are taking a picture. It will make my face look fat,” she told one person trying to take her photograph at the press release.

She is the result of 3 years of work by researchers and engineers at the university, with a lot of effort going into small but important details such as the mouth movement when she speaks or how her eyes move as she looks around a room. There are still some features that need to be worked on, including making her able to perform more complex expressions such as laughing or crying and aside from the head, she looks somewhat like a dummy, which is mostly visible from her hands. These could be improved in a future version of the robot, as the team is set to continue work on Jia Jia, but there are no plans to mass produce or otherwise release her. She could even include deep learning capabilities in a later version according to team leader Chen Xiaoping.

Ang Lee Shows Preview of 4K 3D 120FPS Movie in Las Vegas

Ang Lee showed preview footage of his upcoming film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, at an event in Las Vegas on Saturday. Unlike most previews, the plot or characters weren’t the centerpiece of the movie, but instead the advanced photography and projection techniques used to screen the movie, which the director believes may be the future of the filmmaking industry in the digital age.

The showing was part of the National Association of Broadcasters trade show, where Lee showed off 11 minutes of 3D footage from the film. It wasn’t presented in the typical fashion however, the show making use of a pair of laser projectors that were able to project a full 4K image at an amazing 120 frames per second per eye. This puts regular movies to shame in a number of ways, with the framerate alone being five times that of a typical film with Lee explaining that the jump to 120 FPS 4k allowing for crystal clear images without many of the negative visual artifacts that appear in traditional films.

This isn’t the first time a director has tried to make use of higher than standard framerates in their films, with Peter Jackson making use of 48 FPS recording in his 2012 film, The Hobbit. There were mixed feelings on the use of the higher frame rate with many feeling it stripped away the pseudo-realism that 24 FPS invokes. Lee, however, did not cite Jackson’s use of the technique as part of his reasoning for using it himself.

Whether the use of these techniques will catch on remains to be seen, but Ang Lee and his team feel that it is worth experimenting with new techniques to bring the film industry forward. Lee believes that employing technologies such as those that allow for higher frame rates is not just a case of mindlessly applying new technologies but instead requiring it’s own creative development. “This will be a long journey. I think we’re at the beginning of finding out what digital cinema means,” he said. “We’re not quite there yet, but it’s a strobe-free dimension.”

Unfortunately, for many, they will not get a chance to see the film as Lee showed off this weekend as no cinemas in the world have the ability to project the same way it was at the NAB show, with the film instead being shown in a variety of formats when it is released in November, including HFR versions.

Thermaltake Reveals Latest Enthusiast-Grade Core Chassis

Thermaltake have just revealed the latest set of cases in their TT Premium line, new entries in the Core W series, which includes the Core W200 and Core WP200 super tower chassis as well as the Core P200 pedestal chassis. These new cases are set to follow on from the older generation Core W series (WP100 and W100) and are designed with the same core TT Premium values of Excellent Quality, Unique Design, Diverse Combinations, and Boundless Creativity to deliver cases that push the boundaries of functionality and aesthetics.

As always, the Core W series provides a PC builder with a true DIY feeling of assembling their computer from parts, while also providing the unique option of including two systems into a single chassis. In order to facilitate all of this, the Core WP200/W200 have an impressive capacity and are able to house over 20 drive trays and as many as 10 expansion slots to allow it to even be used as a high-end workstation case.

With all this space, the Core WP200 and W200 are capable of mounting a wide array of hardware, including XL-ATX, E-ATX, ATX, Micro ATX, Mini-ITX motherboards, and also SSI MEB while also leaving space for top-end components and extensive water cooling solutions. Custom liquid cooling components are also available for these cases allowing for fully modular external water-cooling solutions to be used. If this wasn’t enough, the Core P200 Pedestal can be stacked alongside the Core WP200 and W200 cases allowing for fully modular upgrades or additional case space to allow for extensive cooling and power possibilities.

Full details of these cases can be found on Thermaltake’s website.

Lockheed Martin’s VR School Bus Drives You Across Mars

If there is one thing we need to make sure that we keep innovating and reaching for that next step in technology, it is to get the next generation of potential scientists, engineers, and inventors interested in STEM careers. This is something that Lockheed Martin believe very firmly, with the aim of their new Generation Beyond initiative being to find exciting ways to inspire young people to want to be involved in the field. In order to do this, they have developed an experience that should give a small taste of just what our future could be like, a simulated bus ride across the surface of Mars.

The Mars Experience is an immersive virtual reality adventure that takes place entirely aboard an American school bus. The windows of the bus are covered, which allows a view of Mars’ vast and sprawling surface to be shown to those within and the movement of the bus will seem like it is really driving along the surface of the Red Planet.

To power this experience, Lockheed Martin has employed the same kinds of software used to develop the most advanced video games of today and used it to develop a VR experience not limited to a headset and capable of rendering over 200 square miles of Mars’ surface. Lockheed’s bus will be making a tour across the US to give students around the country a chance to experience it for themselves.

Generation Beyond isn’t just investing in the Mars Experience either, with the program offering a free curriculum on deep space to any middle school teacher as well as developing an app that provides real-time reports of the weather on Mars. It may seem like all fun and games, but it is great to see such an initiative attempt to engage the next generation in a manner that they can also enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5JTb_7qv78

Apple Claims ‘Most Effective Security Organization in the World’

In a recent press conference with some of Apple’s engineers, the company stated that they had the ‘most effective security organization in the world’. It wasn’t just an idle statement either, with them revealing a number of the security features that are packed into their iPhone both on the hardware and software levels.

The conference itself was a highly technical affair, with the attending engineers going to great lengths to detail the security protocols they have in place. More than just being a podium for Apple to  grandstand, this conference was a show of clear defiance against the revived effort by the US government to unlock the iPhones of criminals with them restating the point that making the popular smartphone less secure for them would risk compromising the privacy and security of their customers.

Unlike Android and the numerous companies developing Android devices, Apple control all aspects of their phone’s development which allows them to bake security into every level of their device, from hardware to firmware to software. The features employed in order to make the device so secure include a number of both industry-standard and Apple-specific features, which, when employed together secure the device at all levels, making it impossible to even flash the device with a hacked version of iOS or similar super-low-level attacks. They also believe that the chance of a bug occurring at a low enough level to cause a major compromise is small.

Getting users to ensure their phones run the latest version of iOS is another important step to keep devices secure, as each new iteration of the mobile operating system includes new security improvements and bugfixes. Some of the ways that Apple have employed to increase the adoption rate of the newest versions of their software include shrinking the size of the operating system from 4.6GB in iOS 8 to just 1.3GB in iOS 9 and also offering “while you were sleeping” update options, both of which seem to be effectual, with iOS 9 having an adoption rate of 80% so far.

It is plain to see how important Apple believe that security and encryption are to our future by the effort they put into ensuring their devices are secure. Their struggle to convince governments that slackening of security and precedents to force companies to unlock devices would have long-term damage is likely far from over, but we can be assured that Apple (and many other tech firms) will continue to struggle against these demands and ensure a safer and more secure digital future.

Electronics Supplies Affected by Japanese Earthquake

Earlier this week Southern Japan was wracked by a number of powerful earthquakes which has affected the supply chains for a number of major electronics firms including Sony, Mitsubishi Electric and chip-maker Renesas which had factories in the area.

The Kumamoto prefecture on the isle of Kyushu was first struck on Thursday evening local time by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake, which triggered a number of aftershocks. Early on Saturday morning, the region was hit again by a more powerful quake measuring a magnitude of 7.3 and triggering warnings of a potential tsunami. It was reported by NHK Television that at least 4 people had been confirmed dead as a result of the Saturday quake, compounding with the 9 deaths and over 1000 injured by the quakes on Thursday.

As a result of the quakes, Sony put a halt to work at its Kumamoto factory, which produces the digital image sensors used in many devices including Apple’s iPhone. It is currently unclear how long the factory will be out of action or if it will be long enough to affect the availability of products that rely on the sensors. Renesas Electronics and Mitsubishi Electric also possess manufacturing plants in the region which have currently been suspended with the former making chips for the automotive industry and the latter power devices. Addition Mitsubishi Electric facilities in the nearby area have also ground to a halt, including an LCD parts facility and semiconductor plant.

The worst of the earthquakes have now passed for the region, as the Japan Meteorological Agency reported that Saturday’s quake was the main quake and Thursday’s was just a precursor. We can only hope that this natural disaster-torn part of Japan and its people will start to recover soon and the region can begin working to return to normal.

The Company Deleted by One Line of Code Was a Hoax!

Yesterday we reported that a man had mistakenly deleted his entire company using just one line of faulty code. Now it turns out that the entire thing appears to have been made up by the poster as a publicity stunt.

Marco Marsala posted on the Server Fault forums asking for help earlier this week, explaining that his careless use of the “rm -rf” command in Unix had caused him to accidentally delete the contents of all of his servers, including the backups. The story became incredibly popular online and was reported by a number of major news sources as well as garnering a large number of responses to his original post, with a variety of sympathy, pity, and derision.

On Friday, the post was deleted by Stack Overflow, the parent forum of Server Fault and later a post made by a moderator, Sven, brought to light that the story was, in fact, a hoax. The poster, Sven, a Server Fault moderator, pointed to an Italian news report that detailed that the story was part of a marketing stunt by Marsala in order to promote his company and gain visibility. Marsala told the paper that the whole thing was “just a joke”. A statement by Stack Overflow revealed they did not find it quite as funny, saying “The moderators on Server Fault have been in contact with the author about this, and as you can imagine, they’re not particularly amused by it.”

In many ways, it could be surprising how many people believed the story, especially on a forum populated almost entirely by those knowledgeable in technology. It is yet to be decided how Server Fault will deal with the hoax topic, with Sven currently allowing the community in question to decide its fate.

Get a Custom Nexus 5X or 6P Live Case Now From Google

Using a case to protect your phone from unwanted damage is somewhat commonplace, with a variety of styles available for those wishing to look after their mobile device. For many, the typical case is considered to be unsightly. For this, Google has an answer in the form of their newly launched the $35 “Live Case” for their Nexus 5X and 6P handsets.

These Live Cases are fully customizable by the customer, able to include either an image of choice or map location as the decoration for their case and each case comes with a companion wallpaper for the phone, so it’ll fit right in. The cases don’t just look pretty either, with each case including a programmable shortcut button on their body that allows for an app to be launched straight from the case instead of the normal tapping and swiping at the screen.

Each type of case even comes with their own special feature, with the photos version shipping with a customized photo gallery while the maps version help to create a stylized map of a selected location that can be used on both the case and wallpaper for a mirrored back-and-front look. All of the customization is done from a simple web app available on Google’s website and cases come in a choice of matte or glossy finishes.

Already available directly from Google, these cases are sure to appeal to those who are tired of the boring everyday blank or bulky case and for a relatively cheap sum, allow them to show off their artistic streak right on their device.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrinxYzhq-E

Slick Fallout 4 Sports Car Added to Forza 6

When you play Fallout games and you walk past the countless charred husks of the pre-apocalypse cars, you can’t help but wish you could drive them. While it may not include being able to drift between the rubble of the wasteland, now you can, as the Chryslus Rocket ’69 is being added to Forza 6 as a playable vehicle.

The Rocket ’69 is one of the most strikingly beautiful vehicles from the Fallout series and a great example of the retro-futuristic style of the series world before it was bathed in nuclear fire. The addition of the fictional car has been a long time in the works too, with a collaboration between the Fallout and Forza series being announced all the way back in November, around the time Fallout 4 was released. The first result of the crossover was far less exciting, a rusted 1956 Ford F100 bearing a Vault Boy paint job, with the true prize of the collab, the Rocket, being stated as simply coming “soon”.

This car won’t be available for sale in-game, unfortunately, with only those who have logged time playing both Forza 6 and Fallout 4 while connected to Xbox Live being eligible to receive this fine vehicle. There may be a little longer to wait for those lucky players too, with Microsoft stating that “due to the millions of codes being sent, it can take up to seven days for codes to arrive.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YFUxFV0EP4

One Line of Code Accidentally Deletes Entire Company

As far as code mistakes go, few can claim that their careless coding practices caused the deletion of their entire company. Marco Marsala ran a small web hosting company that carried the websites of a number of clients until he unwittingly instructed the servers to delete their entire contents, effectively wiping out his business and the websites of his clients.

In response to the tragedy that befell his servers, Marsala took to the Server Fault forum to explain his plight and perhaps hope that some of the forum’s denizens would be able to help him with his predicament. Instead of help, most of the advice he received simply informed him that the chance he had forever deleted his company was high and his code had completely destroyed both his own data and that of his clients.

I run a small hosting provider with more or less 1535 customers and I use Ansible to automate some operations to be run on all servers. Last night I accidentally ran, on all servers, a Bash script with a rm -rf {foo}/{bar} with those variables undefined due to a bug in the code above this line.

The reason why Marsala lost all of his data stems from his use of the “rm -rf” command, which can be broken down to “rm”, removing files, “-r” meaning it will delete recursively into every subfolder and “-f” for force, meaning no warning will be given. Due to the two variables surrounding the / being empty, this caused the system to delete from the root directory, essentially wiping out everything on the machine. To make matters worse, while he had taken backups, the backup devices had been mounted just before the erroneous script ran, causing them to also be wiped.

Responses to Marsala’s post ranged from pity to insulting, however, all agreed that the data on the servers was almost certainly gone for good with no recovery. Most focused on pointing out the mistakes he had made, instead of being able to offer him any help, “This is not bad luck: it’s astonishingly bad design reinforced by complete carelessness” wrote user Massimo.

For Marsala, there doesn’t look to be a good end to this story. There are very few options open to him that would allow the data to be recovered and even those, such as contacting professional data recovery experts, are expensive, time-consuming and have no guarantee of success. This should serve as a cautionary tale for those wishing to start their own online businesses to be very careful over what you run on your servers and the care you take of your backups.

Developer Preview 2 of Android N Released By Google

Last month, Google made a developer preview version of the upcoming version of their popular mobile operating system, named Android N, available for public download. This release included a number of great new features including split screen functionality and more. Now, a second version of the Android N developer preview has been released for use, which should come as a welcome update for current users of the developer preview as it includes a number of major bug fixes as well as some new functionality too.

Some of the bugs that are addressed in this updated developer preview address issues such as connecting to hidden Wi-Fi networks, pauses during multi window function and over 50 issues that had been reported through the public issue tracker. This doesn’t mean that Android N is ready for everyday use, though, and Google stresses that this is still an unstable preview build meant to allow developers and testers a chance to try out and help improve Android.

On the new features front, this build includes new support for the Vulkan 3D graphics API, launcher shortcuts defined by apps and support for Emoji Unicode 9 support. The addition of Vulkan is aimed entirely at developers and will assist in the development of games and 3D graphics heavy applications while also allowing them to be well optimized for low resource use and battery drain. Launcher shortcuts could make commonly used features in apps even easier to access, giving developers the ability to allow launcher shortcuts to point to a specific point in the app, such as messaging a friend or setting a route to home in a navigation app. Emoji support speaks for itself, but Google is moving away from the generic emoji used in previous Android versions in favour of more human looking designs.

Overall, this update should be a must-have for those already using the previous Android N developer preview, but there aren’t enough new features added in order to give a good reason for more people to adopt it unless some of the existing bugs were their main hang-up. As with the existing preview, this version can be gotten through the Android Beta Program on supported Nexus devices or flash their device manually.

Synthetic Nervous System Allows Paralyzed Man to Move Again

Injuries to the spinal cord that are severe enough to result in paralysis rob their victims of many of the abilities that we take for granted in our daily lives as the built-in biological wiring we rely on to make use of our limbs becomes damaged or broken. For those affected, this often means a lifetime of special care in order to continue to live out their lives even without use of their own bodies. It is a problem that researchers have been tackling for many years with basic mind-controlled robotic limbs already a reality. This research has now gone one step further than ever before as a paralyzed man has been able to control his own hand, not a robotic replacement, using just his mind.

The details of this “neural bypass” technology were published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The technology is able to reconnect a patient’s mind with the functional muscles in their limbs, which serves as a sort of synthetic nervous system bridging gaps left by spinal damage. The patient who tried out the technology, Ian Burkhart, is a 24 year old man, who was left quadriplegic ever since a road accident six years ago was able to make use of his hand once again. During the study, it showed that he was capable of performing a number of actions using his hand, from basic finger movement, grasp objects of varying sizes, swipe a credit card and, amazingly, play a game of Guitar Hero.

Burkhart believed that the technology was capable of changing lives, stating in a press conference that “if or when I can use this system outside of the clinical setting, it will really increase my quality of life and my independence, and decrease the amount of assistance I need from other people.” Getting this far wasn’t easy either, as getting just this far required Burkhart to attend 3 weekly sessions for 15 months. During this time, he developed the ability to pull off six hand and wrist movements and was eventually able to even move his fingers individually, exceeding the expectations of the researchers at Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. His mastery continued to develop over time and he was able to perform more complex and coordinated tasks like putting a cup to his mouth and playing Guitar Hero.

This “neural bypass” works by making use of a microelectrode array implanted in the brain. This allows certain brain activity to be picked up which researchers had identified prior to the implant using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify hand-controlling areas of the brain as Burkhart thought about using his hand. The neural bypassing system takes the data from the electrode array and uses machine learning algorithms to translate the input to a flexible arm sleeve containing 130 muscle-stimulating electrodes.

There is still a long road ahead for the technology, with the biggest leap being able to make it function just as well outside of the clinical setting as well as developing applications of the system for patients with other types of paralysis. Regardless, Burkhart is very optimistic about the research as only a few years after the technology gave him the basic ability to move his hand, things have continued to develop at a rapid rate and could be usable sooner than anyone expects.

Nintendo’s Miitomo App Has Over 4 Million Users Monthly

Nintendo’s first foray into the realm of smartphone apps, Miitomo created a lot of fuss when it was first released last month. Even so, it managed to garner a surprisingly sizable userbase for a simple app based around Nintendo’s “Mii” characters, with SurveyMonkey estimating that over 4 million users who use the app at least once a month and as many as 1 million who use it daily.

Miitomo itself is an unusual experience, seeming more like a Mii-based social interaction platform than something that would truly be considered a game. The main focus of the app centers around the user-created Mii representation of themselves (or in many cases not), being able to answer questions, communicate with friends and take pictures with the Mii overlaid.

Even though at this early stage of its life, such a large amount of monthly users likely includes the curious who may never use it again, Miitomo is continuing to attract more users. Over the last week alone, Miitomo can be estimated to have had as many as 2.6 million downloads, being a constant fixture in the top downloaded lists on both Apple’s app store and the Google Play Store and having an average of 370,000 downloads every day. The demographic is split slightly towards Apple, with 2/3 of users being on Apple’s iOS and the remainder on Android.

Meanwhile, it may not be the most profitable of Nintendo’s ventures, but Miitomo is estimated to be making them $40,000 per day across both platforms, with the majority of this revenue coming from iOS users. This gives it an ARPDAU (Average Revenue Per Daily Active User) of 3-4 cents, which is respectable for a very casual mobile experience.

Whether Miitomo has the power to stay popular remains to be seen, but in coming weeks the true retention rate of the app could be discovered. Only time will tell whether Miitomo was Nintendo’s 15 minutes of mobile fame or a lasting force on the mobile platform, giving them reason to bring fully fledged Nintendo games to mobile.

Windows XP Still Powers 181 Million PCs

Microsoft XP is the operating system that just won’t die it seems. Even now, two years after support for Windows XP finally ended, it has been found that 181 million PCs around the world still use the dated operating system from 2001.

Whether 181 million PCs is a lot in a world where computers seem to be everywhere seems to be hard to measure, but US-based analytics vendor Net Applications released some metrics to put it into perspective. They found that these Windows XP machines made up as much as 11% of all personal computers and 12% of all Windows-running PCs. This difference is due to Windows’ share of the PC market being 91.5% and not 100%. This also means that Windows XP has a larger user-base than all versions of Apple’s Mac OSX, by as much as 40%. XP was also found to be the fourth most used version of Windows to this day, only falling behind Windows 7 at 861 million,  Windows 10 at 235 million and Windows 8/8.1 at 199 million.

While XP usage in the US is fairly low with a market share of only 3.2%, other countries have a much bigger XP problem, most notably China. Numbers on the exact usage of this outdated version of Windows in China seem to vary, its usage is between 26.2% and 31.6% depending on the source.

At its current rate of decline according to Net Applications, Windows XP is set to drop into single digit percentages for usage by as soon as May, but we could be waiting until March 2017 before it finally falls below 5%, almost 3 years since it was ended. Windows XP migration is tough at this point. For those still using XP, the OS is incapable of upgrading to the newest Windows 10 OS, requiring 7 to be a stepping stone along the way. The easier option is simply purchasing a new PC with a newer version of Windows, but for many this isn’t an option.

Tesla to Release Upgraded and Redesigned Model S

Tesla is committed to continually updating their cars and while this usually takes the form of small tweaks and over-the-air software updates. Now, as had been rumoured, Tesla plan to release a newly redesigned and upgraded version of the Model S saloon, which has been on the market for 4 years. This new version of the Model S advances its stylings both in and out in order to bring the popular sporty electric car into line with their newer Model X and Model 3 vehicles.

The starkest change to the Model S is the nose, which has been reshaped to look more like the blunt-nosed Model X as well as including new LED headlights. The interior of the vehicle was also subject to a number of changes, again mostly in the vein of the Model X. Firstly, Tesla’s HEPA-rated air filter that is used on the Model X now makes its appearance on the Model S, complete with the “bioweapon defense mode”. Also included is a new centre console unit as well as two new décor choices, Figured Ash Wood décor and Dark Ash Wood décor both of which are popular choices for the Model X and certainly look good on the Model S too.

Faster charging has also been enabled on the new Model S, the standard charging unit seeing an upgrade to 48 amps from the previous 40 amp charger. There is even an option to upgrade to a 72A “high amperage” charger, compared to the previous offerings of a 40A standard and 80A dual charger.

The price increase for this version of the Model S is surprisingly modest too, with the price looking to be as little as $6000 at the 90D tier. When you consider the upgrades that are rolled into this price that would previously cost more, such as the improved charger and improved centre console, the new Model S may, in fact, cost less than the old one equipped with some of the optional extras that are now standard.

It is great to see Tesla are capable of putting together such a feature-packed new version of the Model S while also working on development and production of their other vehicles. It also gives the older Model S a stronger place in the new Tesla lineup and may tempt some people who were unwilling to buy a car with a 4-year-old design into a purchase. These new vehicles will be going into production at Tesla’s Fremont factory from Tuesday, so if you want one, you may not have to wait long.

Mysterious Prototype Neo Geo Game Discovered

26 years ago the Neo Geo was the original home of a number of fighting games that would go on to be long running series, such as the King of Fighters games. Another potential Neo Geo masterpiece may have been discovered by Neo Geo enthusiast Brian Hargrove, who purchased an unlabelled ROM board a year ago for the sum of around $750, in the hopes of discovering any chunks of leftover data he could play with.

Upon first inspection of the data dumped from the board, it appeared to be an early protoype of  Voltage Fighter Gowkaizer, a superhero fighting game developed by Technos. Dumps of the flash cards that came with the board seemed to contain nothing to do with Voltage Fighter, however. Eventually, Hargrove was able to get the game to boot up, despite two of the flash cards being dead. This revealed a character select menu for a perhaps never-before-seen Neo Geo fighting game.

While the data containing things that may have been able to identify the game, such as a title screen, is inaccessible, what is available is interesting. The game looks like it may have been related to a franchise such as Dungeons and Dragons. Many of the character sprites are rough at best, but all of the characters contain one of 3 alignments that often appear in D&D – Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. Choosing different alignments appears to change the character’s sprites too, which could have provided interesting depth and choice to the game. Overall, the game appears to have been rather ambitious, and it has been noted that it appears more complex than many of Technos’ other games, which raises the question of who developed it.

There is always the chance that this game is just a hoax, created and uploaded to an old Neo Geo board by a joker. The amount of effort that must have been used to create the advanced sprites featured in the prototype seem to contest this though. A number of the characters in the game even seem almost entirely complete. It may never have been finished, but from what you can see of this game, it really makes you wonder what it could have been had it been finished.

Kepler Space Telescope Recovered from Emergency Mode

It was recently reported that the deep space telescope, Kepler had run into trouble and had forced itself to enter its emergency mode. Thankfully the planet-hunting spacecraft has since returned to a stable state.

NASA’s Kepler team engineers were able to direct the communications array aboard the craft towards Earth and have begun the long process of downloading the data that could reveal the cause of the emergency. Due to the spacecraft being 75 million miles from Earth, any signal to and from it takes a whole 13 minutes.

When the telescope was first found to have run into issues late last week, NASA had declared a mission emergency, providing the Kepler team with priority access to the Deep Space Network, which is used to contact distant spacecraft. Due to emergency mode consuming vastly more fuel than normal, restoring Kepler’s functionality was a race against time before it would be unable to complete its mission. Now that Kepler has returned to a stable state, access to the DSN has returned to normal priorities.

Whether Kepler will be returned to “science mode” is yet to be decided by the mission engineers and they are currently performing health checks on all data received from the craft. At the time of failure, the telescope was only 14 hours away from beginning the next section of its ongoing mission, however, the craft has until July 1st to complete this stage, should it be deemed fit to return to full operation.