OCC TECH NEWS
February 18, 2015
Most materials will expand, if only slightly, when heated but there are some polymers that will actually expand when cooled. These shape-memory polymers have some drawbacks though, but researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a new material without those issues.
Normally shape-memory polymers need to be programmed each time they are heated and cooled, as to what shape they are supposed to take on. This programming requires attaching small loads to it to direct the process. The Rochester researchers got around this by introducing permanent stress inside of the material. When the material was heated, they attached a load to cause it to take a shape. They then added crosslinks to the otherwise loose network of molecules, so when the material cooled and crystallized, it did so in a preferred direction. By building the stress into the molecular structure, the loads are no longer necessary for the material to remember what shape to take when cooled. Even after multiple heating and cooling cycles, the material returned to its original and programmed shape without noticeable deviation.
Besides being cool, a shape-memory polymer like this could find many useful applications with biotechnology, artificial muscles, and robotics. Next the researchers are working on optimizing the system by adjusting how the crosslinks tie together.
Source: University of Rochester
In December of last year, Amazon launched a new delivery service known as Prime Now that offered free two-day delivery of tens of thousands of daily essentials items, as well as one-hour delivery of those same items for $7.99. The service initially covered select parts of Manhattan, aimed at those located near Penn Station and an office that Amazon was set to acquire late last year. The online retail giant has now revealed that Prime Now has been expanded to cover all residents of Manhattan, allowing customers who utilize the Prime Now application to receive their items just hours after ordering. The expansion of Prime Now comes just months after Amazon Fresh, a grocery delivery service, was launched in Brooklyn in October.
While Amazon does plan to offer Prime Now in other cities in the near future, the company has declined to specify which areas are next on the list to receive the expedited delivery service.
Google has just pushed an update for its Play Music application for iOS devices, bringing the mobile music application to version 2.0.3828. The update, which is currently available to download from iTunes, ushers in a refined user interface that matches the company’s material design found in other applications. The update also brings full iPad compatibility to the table, something that Google Play Music has been missing for quite some time. Now, besides the ability to purchase Google Play Music's monthly subscription service through the mobile application, iOS users utilizing Play Music have access to the same features and functions that Android users have long enjoyed.
Source: The Verge
February 17, 2015
AT&T is gearing up for a battle with Google Fiber in Kansas City as it has now brought its own GigaPower fiber-to-the-home service to the area. AT&T is offering the service at the same price as Google Fiber, but will charge an additional $29 for users that opt out of the "Internet Preferences" program. The same deal was offered in Austin in 2013 and tracks "the webpages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter... AT&T Internet Preferences works independently of your browser's privacy settings regarding cookies, do-not-track, and private browsing. If you opt-in to AT&T Internet Preferences, AT&T will still be able to collect and use your Web browsing information independent of those settings." AT&T uses the information gathered to better target ads to customers. Users that opt-in will have a price of $70 per month with the option to add a TV bundle with HBO for $120 month and voice service for $150 per month.
Source: Ars Technica
VLC media player, a free and open source program which plays virtually every media file available, is coming to Google’s Chromecast. According to a recently posted changelog for VLC 3.0, the next major version of the cross-platform multimedia player, support for Chromecast is just one of new features that will be included. With Chromecast support, users of VLC will be able to stream content from a variety of sources, including computer, tablets, and smartphones, as the media player by VideoLan is compatible with nearly every operating system. While other media players have recently introduced Chromecast support, VLC is unique in that it boasts a large user base that is likely to benefit from the added support for Chromecast.
Terraria is a very popular 2D sandbox game where players are tasked with exploring randomly generated worlds. When the creator of the game abruptly stopped development on it, some were nervous about the news until it was announced that he was working on Terraria 2. It has now been announced by co-creators Re-Logic and Engine Software that the next game in the series will officially be entitled Terraria: Otherworld. While not a direct sequel to the first game, it will be set "in an alternate dimension within the Terraria universe." The Re-Logic team described the game in more detail stating, "Terraria: Otherworld places the player in a life-and-death struggle to restore a once-pristine world – now overrun by a malevolent force that has corrupted nature itself – to its original splendor. Along with a rag-tag band of survivors, will you be able to successfully harness the power of an array of weaponry, magic, defenses, and even the world itself to thwart the designs of this unseen evil?" The game will be on display at GDC next month where more details about it will be revealed.
Source: Game Watcher
A research team has announced some rather interesting findings that show a sophisticated spy software has been installed on hard drives across the world. Researchers at Kaspersky Lab in Moscow, Russia, released their findings that show "the most advanced threat actor" they've ever seen embedded in the hard drives of personal computers. The spying software, dubbed Equation Group, is linked to the National Security Agency and has been found in hard drives from Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, Hitachi, and more. The infected hard drives are most prevalent in Iran, but also show up in Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, and at least 21 other countries. Even more countries could have the spying software on its computers, but given Equation Group's self-destructive habit when found, there's no exact way to be sure.
Equation Group is supposedly in computers of government and military installations, telecoms, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists. While the software is simply linked to the NSA and not actively tied to it, Kaspersky says it is similar to Stuxnet, which was used to attack Iran's uranium enrichment facility in 2007. The new software can monitor activities on computers, even ones disconnected from the Internet, and even take full control of high-profile targets. The hard drive can even be reprogrammed by the software to become a slave, which is something Kaspersky has not seen before.
Kaspersky Lab will release more information about Equation Group in the near future, with something that may even directly tie the software to the NSA.
Source: Kaspersky Lab  & , Ars Technica, and CommonDreams
Two dimensional materials have been of great interest for years now, as they can possess some very unusual and useful properties. Graphene is a prime example of this, with it tremendous strength, conductivity, and flexibility, and so is germanane, an atom-thick sheet of germanium. Germanane was first made a couple years ago at Ohio State University, and since then the researchers have been tinkering with it and making some interesting discoveries.
There is a little irony to the work with germanane for potential use in future computers, as germanium was used to make transistors before silicon, the current standard. The researchers are trying to keep the work within what is possible with silicon fabrication methods though. Part of their work has been focused on manipulating germanane's optical properties. It already transmits electron some 10 times faster than silicon and is better at absorbing light, but by tuning germanane's electron structure, it may be able to interact with a significantly wider portion of the spectrum than currently possible. This could lead to improved LEDs, lasers, solar cells, and more.
The researchers have also been investigating a 2D tin material by making germanane samples that contain 9% tin atoms. It has been theoretically predicted that a 2D tin material would be a topological insulator and capable of transmitting electrons with 100% efficiency, at room temperature. The predictions also state that only certain bonds would form on the material's top and bottom, which the researchers observed with the germanane samples.
Source: Ohio State University
Over the weekend an article came out speculating that Apple could buy Tesla Motors for a staggering $75 billion. This article isn't a rumor of something that will happen, but rather just speculation on something the author says may happen sometime in the next 18 months because of Apple's interest in making an electric car. Making a car is no small task, and even for a company as high-profile as Apple, will take years before anything comes to fruition. Tesla Motors only sold 33,000 cars last year, while other car manufacturers sell ten times that in just a single month.
Electric cars are certainly the future, but need to mature and become more readily available until then. The batteries alone need to mature, as they're heavy, expensive, and not all that great for the environment to create. Tesla CEO Elon Musk does want to create batteries to power people's homes for up to a week and build low-cost batteries in a Gigafactory, but those are a ways off. The battery packs for a house may end up costing more than the house itself, even.
There are plenty of other car manufacturers out there with electric cars either available or planned, or even with hybrid models that can run solely on electric for a time. Tesla is not the only electric car manufacturer, so it has plenty of competition to set its cars apart. Could Apple help with that? Sure, it could, if it wants to grossly overpay to get there (Tesla is worth $25 billion) and risk cutting its profit margins down from the 30% range to the 5-10% range. In fact, Tesla finally managed to turn a profit just last year, when before it always lost money.
So, if Apple wants to buy Tesla Motors, nothing will stop it if it wants to. Apple is considering an electric car and buying Tesla would help out that strategy, but the risk may not outplay the reward. Right now everything concerning Apple and Tesla is just speculation. A partnership between the two would make more sense than outright purchase.
Sources: Calacanis, Brunozzi, GPS Business News, and Forbes
A new day is here, with a couple of items for you to check out and consider. There is a review of the EVGA TORQ X5 gaming mouse, a feature-packed mouse that shouldn't break the bank. EVGA is going beyond just video cards these days, so be sure to see what the TORQ X5 mouse brings to the table. We also have the NZXT DOKO PC Streaming Device, which can bring content from your PC to any TV in your home.
EVGA TORQ X5 USB Gaming Mouse @ Benchmark Reviews
NZXT DOKO PC Streaming Device @ ThinkComputers
Vision is a very important sense and many people would say they cannot live without it, so naturally many technologies have been developed to correct imperfect vision. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults, so it has gotten some special attention. Researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne recently demonstrated telescopic contact lenses and smart glasses for fighting the condition.
The contact lenses utilize a thin reflective telescope made of plastics, aluminum mirrors, polarizing thin films, and biologically safe glues to hold it all together. When light enters the lenses, it is bounced around by the mirrors, to expand the image resulting in a 2.8 times magnification. To keep the lenses safe to use, the researchers have incorporated 0.1 mm wide air channels in them, to allow oxygen to reach the eye.
The glasses work with the contact lenses to select whether you see a normal or magnified image. When you wish to see normal vision, the glasses allow through light of with the polarization matching the lenses' 1x aperture, while a different polarization matches the 2.8x aperture. The glasses have a light source and detector in order to distinguish winks from blinks, because it is winking one eye or the other that switches between the magnifications.
Source: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne via EurekAlert!
February 16, 2015
The ASUS Zenbook UX305, one of the most sought-after ultrabooks since its debut at the IFA show in Berlin last September, is now available to purchase. The base model Zenbook UX305, which is priced at $699, comes with a 13.3-inch display that offers a resolution of 1920 x 1080, 256GB of solid-state storage, 8GB of memory, and Intel HD Graphics 5300. An upgraded Zenbook UX305 configuration, which is currently unavailable to purchase, offers the same internal specifications but comes equipped with a QHD+ multitouch display that features a 3200 x 1800 resolution. Both models come in at under a half an inch thick and weigh approximately 2.6 pounds, making the Zenbook UX305 highly competitive in the ultrabook segment.
ASUS, one of the leading computer hardware and electronics companies in the world, has officially unveiled the GeForce GTX 960 Mini. This latest graphics card from ASUS features a dense heatpipe-fed toroidal aluminum fin-stack heatsink, a fan that is a hybrid between top-flow and lateral-flow blowers, and a solid brushed-aluminum back-plate. The card, which measures just 17 centimeters long, comes factory overclocked with a core clock speed of 1190MHz, a GPU boost clock of 1253MHz, and memory at 7GHz. The GeForce GTX 960 Mini from ASUS draws power from a single 6-pin PCIe power connector and comes with one dual-link DVI interface, one HDMI 2.0 port, and three DisplayPort 1.2 connectors.
Pricing and availability of the GeForce GTX 960 Mini has not yet been revealed by ASUS.
While Microsoft made OneNote 2013 free for personal use last year, the software had various limitations since a premium version that contained more robust features was also offered to users. Those limitations are now a thing of the past, according to Brad Corob, the program manager for the OneNote team. Corob has revealed in a blog post that premium features that were once available only to users of paid editions of OneNote are now available for free. These premium features, which can be utilized immediately by users of the OneNote 2013 free edition, include audio search, audio and video recording, embedded files, page history, and password protected sections. Corob also emphasizes that with a free Microsoft account, users of the free edition of OneNote 2013 have no limit to the number of notes that can be created or synced with OneDrive.
Source: Office Blogs
A new week is upon us, with several items to get it started right. We have a review of the Fractal Design Define R5 case, which has some premium features to go with its silent operation. There is also a review on the both the 250 and 500GB versions of the new Crucial BX100 SSD, with its low cost to performance ratio appealing to many. If you want to stream your PC to any TV in your house, perhaps the NZXT DOKO PC Streaming Device is the item for you. For those needing a home server, the Thecus W2000 Windows Storage Server may be for you, as it is a two-bay NAS that comes with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials installed. Wrapping up for today is a review covering both the Sony Xperia Z2 and Z3v smartphones.
Fractal Design Define R5 @ ThinkComputers
Crucial BX100 250 and 500GB SSD @ PC Perspective
Thecus W2000 Windows Storage Server @ PC Perspective
NZXT DOKO PC Streaming Device @ Madshrimps
Verizon Sony Xperia Z2 and Z3v @ LanOC Reviews
In a move that should surprise no one, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot hinted in an earnings call that more Far Cry games were on the horizon, though he stopped short of outright confirming the next game in the series. Sales of Far Cry 4 broke the seven million copy mark, and outpaced sales of Far Cry 3. More DLC is planned for Far Cry 4 in the meantime, with the potential for something similar to Blood Dragon as well as the just released PvP mode. Guillemot summed up his feelings on the matter stating, "The Far Cry franchise is here for the long-run and is a stronger contender in the shooter genre."
Every day, information about our past is lost as people die, films fade, and objects erode away. While there are many preservations initiatives to prevent the loss of our history, a means to store this information for the long term is still needed. One possibility is to write the information into DNA, and now researchers at ETH Zurich have found a way to overcome that particular medium's issues.
One of the issues of DNA data storage is that the DNA must be protected from the environment. Samples that are hundreds of thousands of years old are retrieved from bones, so to replicate this protection, the researchers used silica microspheres some 150 nm wide. The researchers tested it against the DNA being stored in a biopolymer and on impregnated filter paper, and it showed itself to be particularly robust. It is also rather easy to retrieve the DNA using a fluoride solution.
Another issue is that errors can occur in the data, which is naturally undesirable for long-term data storage. To address this, the researchers applied a scheme similar to those used for long-range data transmission and found it enabled the data to be retrieved, error-free.
Source: ETH Zurich
The latest driver from NVIDIA, GeForce R347, has removed the ability to overclock some GTX 900M series mobile graphics cards. Some users took to the NVIDIA forums to express their concerns, and are unlikely to be happy with the answer they received. Manuel Guzman of NVIDIA addressed the issue stating, "Unfortunately GeForce Notebooks were not designed to support overclocking. Overclocking is by no means a trivial feature, and depends on thoughtful design of thermal, electrical, and other considerations. By overclocking a notebook, a user risks serious damage to the system that could result in non-functional systems, reduced notebook life, or many other effects." Guzman also pointed out that overclocking mobile cards wasn't supposed to be enabled and the company considered the move a bug fix rather than a feature removal.
Source: Hot Hardware
February 15, 2015
Apple has expanded its' two-step verification process to the FaceTime and iMessage services, joining iCloud and Apple ID. The two-step SMS-based process was implemented after the highly publicized celebrity photo hacks in August. Users can enable the feature for an extra measure of security when logging into their accounts. After enabling two-step verification, users will receive a code on their smartphone when attempting to login to either service, with the option to create a recovery code in the event that your smartphone is lost.
Source: Mac World
The AMD R9 300 series still isn't technically announced, but that doesn't mean the rumors and unofficial confirmations aren't going to stop showing up. We have something new concerning the new flagship video card, the R9 390X, and it seems to confirm it will be featuring a liquid cooling system built right in. According to the latest leak, the AMD R9 390X features a liquid cooler from Cooler Master to keep the Fiji XT core from being overwhelmed. The liquid cooler is an Asetek model that Cooler Master is licensing, and features a closed loop design and a 120mm fan. Now, the fan and radiator may be right on the 390X, or the rad may be a separate attachment like it is with the R9 295X2. We'll just have to wait and see in that regard. AMD's partners may opt to go with an air cooler on their version of the R9 390X, but those air coolers will have to be fairly robust to compete with the reference card's liquid cooler.
If you're wondering when you can get your hands on an R9 390X, you may not have too long to wait. We may still get the official announcement this month about the R9 300 series, with a launch coming later in March or April. A demonstration of the new cards could also come during March 2 through 6 at GDC 2015, with a soft or hard launch right after. Hopefully we get some confirmation one way or the other, as well as how much we need to drop to get an R9 390X.
February 14, 2015
The Toughbook 54 is the latest entry in the durable laptop series from Panasonic, and it cuts down on weight while still providing protection as needed. The weight has been reduced to 4.19 pounds compared to the Toughbook 53 at 5.5 pounds while remaining able to withstand drops from heights up to 3.3 feet. The 14" screen starts at a resolution of 720p with the option of upgrading to 1080p. The Toughbook is powered by the latest Broadwell architecture processors from Intel and it can accommodate up to 16GB of memory with two hard drive slots able to take up to 1TB and 256GB. Users will be able to use the Toughbook for up to 11 hours with a single battery or 18 hours with a pair of batteries. The Toughbook 54 will start at $1,499 and will be available for purchase sometime this month.
Source: PC World
February 13, 2015
The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on a new search engine called Memex, currently in development by 17 contractor teams. Memex "aims to build a better map of Internet content and uncover patterns in online data that could help law enforcement officers and others." DARPA has been using Memex to aid in the search for human traffickers but it could be applied to other areas such as counter terrorism or missing persons in the future. Memex explores pages that are typically ignored by other search engines such as Google or Bing, and program manager Chris White stated that these search engines only access "around 5 percent of the content on the Web." White also pointed out that Memex doesn't dig into password protected sites and won't engage in hacking to index these pages.
Source: Info World
Metamaterials are a curious class of materials that have the unique quality of possessing properties not found in Nature. Some of these materials' properties have been engineered by the people making them, but not all of them. The nonlinear optical properties are one example where the physics still need to be understood, but now researchers at Berkeley Lab have found a theory to predict these properties.
If you shine a light into a material, you expect the color of the light to remain the same, but some materials will change it. These are called nonlinear materials and they have a number of uses, for example some lasers use them to produce otherwise unobtainable higher frequencies of light. Some metamaterials are also nonlinear, but they cannot be described with the same rule used for natural materials. What the Berkeley researchers have found is that a nonlinear light scattering theory developed for nanostructures actually does work.
Metamaterials with their engineered optical properties could see use in advanced microscopes and other devices, but all of their properties will have to be understood first. By discovering this theory can be applied, that level of understanding is coming closer.
Source: Berkeley Lab
The end of the week is here, and hopefully this Friday the 13th doesn't have any surprises in store for you. We do have some items to get to, including a look at USB 3.1 on the MSI X99A Gaming 9 ACK motherboard. USB 3.1 offers read and write speeds up to 690MB/s, which is a marked improvement over the 450MB/s limit of USB 3.0. There is also a look at the new game Evolve and how it performs on various systems, so you should have a good idea of how it will run on whatever setup you may have. The Silicon Power Mobile X31 OTG USB 3.0 flash drive gets reviewed to see how it will handle transfering data between a PC and mobile device. Wrapping up is a podcast covering the latest news and reviews from the past week.
First Look at USB 3.1 - The MSI X99A Gaming 9 ACK @ PC Perspective
Evolve Benchmarks @ TechSpot
Silicon Power Mobile X31 OTG USB 3.0 Flash Drive @ Madshrimps
Podcast #336 @ PC Perspective
Fairly often we want to present ourselves in the best light by focusing on our successes and avoiding or downplaying our failings, because we think it will make us look better in the eyes of others. Researchers at the University of Iowa decided to investigate how effective that strategy is for online dating profiles and found that looking perfect is not the perfect plan.
The researchers put together eight profile, four men and four women, that lay along the spectrum between Selective Self-Presentation (SSP) and Warranting. Warranting contains information that is easily traced to a real person, such as links to what is mentioned in the profile, while SSP only shows what is good about the person. These profiles were then shown to 317 adults, of which 150 were men and 167 were women, with an average age of 40. The researchers expected the high SSP profiles, which sounded perfect, to be the most popular, but the reverse was the case.
Instead of the perfect profiles, the people preferred the more realistic profiles as they viewed it as more trustworthy. It appears this may come from the expectation of people misrepresenting themselves in these profiles, making the realistic ones more appreciated.
Source: University of Iowa
February 12, 2015
It is never fun to catch the flu, so it is not surprising that a number of treatments have been developed, from those deployed by doctors to old wives' tales. To help improve and discover new strategies, researchers at the University of Oxford have built the first complete model of the outer envelope of an influenza A virion.
A virion is a complete virus particle, so modeling it allows people researchers to study how it behaves in different environments, and the efficacy of drugs meant to destroy the virus. In this case the researchers made the interesting discovery that the spike proteins on the particle's membrane spread out, instead of moving closer together. These proteins impact how the virion interacts with its host cell, and this information could be used to better design antigens.
Currently the model only spans a very short period of time for a single virion, but overtime it may expand to multiple particles in various environments. This would be useful for learning how the particles behave and survive over the course of a year.
Source: Biophysical Society via EurekAlert!
Expedia, which offers online booking services for flights, car rentals, and hotels, is making plans to acquire one its primary rivals, Orbitz Worldwide. Orbitz offers many of the same services that Expedia does through an online booking interface, and the companies provide some select services in markets that happen to overlap one another. The acquisition, which is currently valued at $1.6 billion, will enable Expedia to grow its customer base substantially, allowing the company to maintain profit growth as booking volumes continue to accelerate.
The acquisition of Orbitz by Expedia is not yet finalized, but Orbitz directors are advising stockholders to accept the offer by Expedia, which is based on a $12 per share valuation.
MSI has officially unveiled its latest consumer product, the Xield5 gaming mousepad. This latest mousepad from MSI is comprised of a cloth-surface that features the company’s gaming dragon graphics, which is featured on a variety of different MSI offerings. Nature bamboo-rubber makes up the filler of the Xield5 gaming mousepad and the product measures a massive 760mm x 560mm and weighs in at 730g. The MSI Xield5 gaming mousepad is targeted at users who want to fill up their desk with a premium surface in order to organize their desk.
Pricing and availability of the Xield5 gaming mousepad has not been announced by MSI.
A new day is here, with a couple of items for you to check out. There is another take on the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G video card, complete with a Twin Frozr V cooler and factory overclock to get your games looking their best the second the card is installed. Our other item for the day is a preview of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, with performance numbers going up against other tablets and smartphones to see where it falls against the competition.
MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G @ LanOC Reviews
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Performance Preview @ PC Perspective
Chances are that if you have been following displays in recent years you have heard about OLEDs. There is great interest in them because pixels in an OLED display emit their own light, instead of needing a backlight, and the displays can be flexible. While there are many products that use them, OLED displays are still uncommon in part because they are still expensive, but that should be changing soon, thanks to researchers at MIT and their startup Kateeva.
Like many relatively young technologies, the promise of OLEDs has been talked about a lot, but not all of them have been realized. The flexibility of the thin films has been demonstrated, as has the improved brightness and saturation, thanks to the pixels directly emitting light. What has not quite materialized yet though is the lower cost of manufacturing. This is what the MIT researchers have tackled with their inkjet-like YIELDjet platform. YIELDjet FLEX is one of two technologies they have developed, and this one protects the OLED material from being exposed to contaminates by using a nitrogen chamber. Normally a vacuum chamber would be used, but the nitrogen chamber is ten times more effective and cuts down on waste and cost. The researchers hope to see displays made with YIELDjet FLEX in products by the end of the year.
The second YIELDjet technology the researchers have created removes the need of shadow masks for laying down patterns. Instead of the masks, which cause waste and can cause defects, the new system uses print heads with hundreds of nozzles to deposit the OLED materials directly onto a substrate. This could potentially cut the costs of larger displays by half.