The Ultimate Gear for Watching the Olympics

The Ultimate Gear for Watching the Olympics

The 2016 Summer Olympics will be the hardest Olympics not to watch. This has nothing to do with the quality of the competition or your overall interest in the hammer throw, which hopefully is extremely high. No, this summer’s Games will be hard to avoid because they’ll be available on practically every device you own. Here’s all the best gear for tuning in.

01

Streaming Essentials

Free and paid options abound for watching the Olympics on your phone, tablet, set-top box, and game console. NBCOlympics.com puts it all in your browser. The NBC Sports app works on iOS, Android, Windows Phones, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox. If you want to get spendy, SlingTV ($25/month) and PlayStation Vue ($30/month) provide cable-like coverage.

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Free and paid options abound for watching the Olympics on your phone, tablet, set-top box, and game console. NBCOlympics.com puts it all in your browser. The NBC Sports app works on iOS, Android, Windows Phones, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox. If you want to get spendy, SlingTV ($25/month) and PlayStation Vue ($30/month) provide cable-like coverage.

02

Watch it in 4K HDR

You can watch the Olympics in the best televised experience available today: 4K high-dynamic range (HDR) video. Unfortunately, it’s a chore to figure out if your TV and plan are compatible. Comcast will stream 4K HDR footage via its Xfinity app for Samsung’s latest SUHD TVs. Dish delivers it on channel 146, DirectTV uses channel 106, and you’ll need extra hardware for both of those options. And while they’ll all look stunning, none of them will be live broadcasts.

Samsung

You can watch the Olympics in the best televised experience available today: 4K high-dynamic range (HDR) video. Unfortunately, it’s a chore to figure out if your TV and plan are compatible. Comcast will stream 4K HDR footage via its Xfinity app for Samsung’s latest SUHD TVs. Dish delivers it on channel 146, DirectTV uses channel 106, and you’ll need extra hardware for both of those options. And while they’ll all look stunning, none of them will be live broadcasts.

03

A Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Video isn’t the only great thing about those feeds. In many cases, the audio will be compatible with Dolby Atmos speakers—those sound systems in movie theaters that provide realistic 3-D effects. You’ll need a compatible soundbar to make those immersive effects work, and there are a couple of pricey options on the market: Yamaha’s $1,600 YSP-5600 and Samsung’s $1,500 HW-K950.

Samsung

Video isn’t the only great thing about those feeds. In many cases, the audio will be compatible with Dolby Atmos speakers—those sound systems in movie theaters that provide realistic 3-D effects. You’ll need a compatible soundbar to make those immersive effects work, and there are a couple of pricey options on the market: Yamaha’s $1,600 YSP-5600 and Samsung’s $1,500 HW-K950.

04

Samsung Gear VR

If you’ve got the NBC Sports app, a Samsung Galaxy phone, and a Samsung Gear VR headset, you can also watch some events in VR. These won’t be live broadcasts, but the NBC Sports app should recognize if it’s installed on a compatible phone. If so, it’ll give viewers the option to witness some events in 360-degree video.

Samsung

If you’ve got the NBC Sports app, a Samsung Galaxy phone, and a Samsung Gear VR headset, you can also watch some events in VR. These won’t be live broadcasts, but the NBC Sports app should recognize if it’s installed on a compatible phone. If so, it’ll give viewers the option to witness some events in 360-degree video.

05

An HD antenna

If you’re OK with watching the games in HD, an antenna can pull in a top-notch signal without having to use a cable box. Plug in your antenna, run a channel scan, and then tune into NBC or Telemundo. Buying the right antenna can be tricky. It’s hard to recommend one for everybody, because your home’s surroundings and distance from a broadcast tower are important factors. Your TV has to have a built-in tuner, too, and you may need to invest in an amplified or directional antenna if you’re dozens of miles from a tower.

Getty Images

If you’re OK with watching the games in HD, an antenna can pull in a top-notch signal without having to use a cable box. Plug in your antenna, run a channel scan, and then tune into NBC or Telemundo. Buying the right antenna can be tricky. It’s hard to recommend one for everybody, because your home’s surroundings and distance from a broadcast tower are important factors. Your TV has to have a built-in tuner, too, and you may need to invest in an amplified or directional antenna if you’re dozens of miles from a tower.

06

Keep Your Data Plan in Check

When it comes to streaming the Olympics on your phone or tablet, your viewing appetite may be larger than your data plan. You could always use Wi-Fi, but T-Mobile’s “Binge On” plan lets you stream without using any of your monthly data. NBC Sports, Playstation Vue, and Sling TV are all covered under the Binge On plan.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

When it comes to streaming the Olympics on your phone or tablet, your viewing appetite may be larger than your data plan. You could always use Wi-Fi, but T-Mobile’s “Binge On” plan lets you stream without using any of your monthly data. NBC Sports, Playstation Vue, and Sling TV are all covered under the Binge On plan.

07

Ultimate Mobile Viewing

Phones are big nowadays, but if you want to really show off at the coffee shop, you need something along the lines of a portable wireless television. Panasonic’s ginormous 4K tablet, for example. The Toughpad UT-MB5025 has a 20-inch screen and weighs more than five pounds. Don’t worry about cracking that screen, because it’s built to withstand drops of up to six feet.

Panasonic

Phones are big nowadays, but if you want to really show off at the coffee shop, you need something along the lines of a portable wireless television. Panasonic’s ginormous 4K tablet, for example. The Toughpad UT-MB5025 has a 20-inch screen and weighs more than five pounds. Don’t worry about cracking that screen, because it’s built to withstand drops of up to six feet.

08

Radio? Radio!

You haven’t experienced an Olympic javelin competition until you’ve listened to it on the radio. TuneIn will stream Olympics audio coverage from two NBC stations and four Westwood One stations. It’s the best way to enjoy the games while sipping lemonade on the porch.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You haven’t experienced an Olympic javelin competition until you’ve listened to it on the radio. TuneIn will stream Olympics audio coverage from two NBC stations and four Westwood One stations. It’s the best way to enjoy the games while sipping lemonade on the porch.

09

Damn the Mosquitoes

You’ve spoiled yourself with the sights of the games in VR and the sounds in Dolby Atmos. If you really want to feel like you’re right there in Rio, how about a little bug spray? This Sawyer Picaridin spray is Consumer Reports’ top-rated mosquito repellent. Bonus: It has a “mild corn-chip aroma mixed with citrus,” so you’ll also smell like a bag of Fritos Sal y Limon.

Getty Images

You’ve spoiled yourself with the sights of the games in VR and the sounds in Dolby Atmos. If you really want to feel like you’re right there in Rio, how about a little bug spray? This Sawyer Picaridin spray is Consumer Reports’ top-rated mosquito repellent. Bonus: It has a “mild corn-chip aroma mixed with citrus,” so you’ll also smell like a bag of Fritos Sal y Limon.

10

Virtual Track & Field

Olympic track-and-field events don’t start for about a week. Patience is for suckers. Scratch that non-mosquito itch right now by buying a refurbished arcade version of Konami’s Track & Field on eBay. It costs around 2 grand and includes several games in the series. If you don’t have that kind of cash or space, just watch this YouTube video while smashing two buttons on your keyboard.

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Olympic track-and-field events don’t start for about a week. Patience is for suckers. Scratch that non-mosquito itch right now by buying a refurbished arcade version of Konami’s Track & Field on eBay. It costs around 2 grand and includes several games in the series. If you don’t have that kind of cash or space, just watch this YouTube video while smashing two buttons on your keyboard.

Source: WIRED

Microsoft, Sony, and other companies still use illegal warranty-void-if-removed stickers

Microsoft, Sony, and other companies still use illegal warranty-void-if-removed stickers

One of the ways manufacturers coerce users not to modify or even open hardware they’ve purchased is through warranty-void-if-removed stickers. These stickers are common on electronics equipment — Microsoft uses them on the Xbox One, Sony has them on the PS4, and you’ve probably owned a phone that had at least one somewhere.

These stickers are almost certainly illegal, as Motherboard points out in relation to the new Xbox One S. The problem with the stickers is that they run afoul of the FCC’s rules on tying repair services to specific products. This issue is also probably why Apple agreed to change its practices regarding iPhones, when devices that had been repaired by third-party shops would then suddenly fail when upgraded to Apple’s latest operating system.

“The stickers could be deceptive by implying consumers can’t use parts the warrantor doesn’t pre-approve, which violates the anti-tying provisions of MMWA,” FTC spokesperson Frank Dorman told Vice.

PS4Feature

This practice isn’t remotely unique to Microsoft. The PS4 does the same thing.  Image by iFixit

Companies don’t like to talk about these policies, most likely because they don’t want to admit they’ve been doing something illegal for decades. Laws like the 1975 Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act were passed to prevent companies from tying customers to expensive repair contracts, or requiring customers to use only approved hardware installed by “authorized” resellers. The common example for this is with cars, where it’s illegal for a manufacturer to try and force you to only install their own parts.

There are, of course, limits to these laws. If you destroy your transmission or engine while servicing them, the manufacturer is under no obligation to repair the vehicle. What manufacturers aren’t allowed to do is refuse to honor a warranty on your engine just because you installed a different set of speakers or an aftermarket radio. The obligation is on the manufacturer to demonstrate that your third-party repairs or modifications caused the failure, not the other way around.

Modern electronics are tightly integrated, but the concept is the same. Microsoft isn’t allowed to prevent you from opening your own hardware, and neither is any other manufacturer. So why do they?

The answer is simple: Because they know you won’t do anything about it. It’s a nifty example of how companies get away with doing illegal things — the cost of taking them to court and forcing them to comply with the law is higher than the value of the product. A car is expensive enough to repair that companies can’t get away with telling you to pony up thousands of dollars for their own parts and repair shops. On the other hand, a smartphone can cost $500 to $700, but that doesn’t begin to cover the cost of a lawyer to litigate the issue, and Apple, Microsoft, and other companies know it.

In Microsoft’s case, its warranty states that it ceases to apply if the Xbox One is “opened, modified, or tampered with.” It’s flatly illegal. But until someone brings a case against the company and litigates it out, electronics companies will continue to put these stickers on their products, and consumers will continue to believe the manufacturers are legally allowed to do.

The situation is also playing out in new ways thanks to the advent of DRM. Tractor manufacturer John Deere and the Library of Congress have both resisted any attempt to require manufacturers to share data on firmware or other DRM’d blocks of information, because it could conceivably allow for piracy or alter the function of the vehicle. John Deere has gone so far as to claim that by purchasing a tractor, farmers gain “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.” It’s the concept of software licensing, except applied to hardware, and the fact that it’s illegal doesn’t seem to concern anyone much.

Source: ExtremeTech

New climate modeling shows Venus may have once been habitable

New climate modeling shows Venus may have once been habitable

It’s hard to imagine a less-hospitable location in the solar system than the surface of Venus. Humans can’t survive without spacesuits and life support systems anywhere besides Earth, but Mars, the Moon, and Europa present challenges we could probably meet with current technology. Venus’ atmosphere is 92 times thicker than our own — step outside the comfort of a hypothetical space craft, and you’d be crushed like the organic equivalent of a beer can. The question of how Venus, the planet most like Earth in size, gravity, and composition, ended up a toxic hellstew of sulfur dioxide with a runaway greenhouse effect has fascinated scientists for decades. Now, new research suggests that Venus might have been the first habitable place in our solar system — and it might have remained so for billions of years.

Our current models suggest that Venus and Earth formed from similar materials, which would strongly imply that the planet initially had substantial water reserves. The scientists in this report used computer modeling to simulate how Venus might have evolved if it began as an Earth-like planet with shallow oceans and an Earth-like atmosphere. Keep in mind that “Earth-like” refers to the conditions of the ancient Earth, not the markedly different ones we find ourselves inhabiting today.

Atmosphere_composition

The researchers found that Venus’ simulated rotation speed had a profound impact on how the climate of paleo-Venus evolved over time. Currently, Venus spins extremely slowly, with a year that’s actually significantly shorter than its day. When the climate models kept this slow spin, the temperatures on ancient Venus remained within habitable ranges for a substantial amount of time — up to 2 billion years.

Paleo-Venus

Speed up the rotation, however, and the situation goes south in a hurry. If the Venusian day is “just” 16x slower than our own, surface temperatures skyrocket in a hurry. One of the noteworthy characteristics of Venus is that its high-altitude wind speeds dwarf anything on Earth, with wind speeds up to 60x faster than the planet rotates. In hypothetical early Venus, with a slow rotation speed, the climate model predicts significant layers of cloud cover that would’ve shielded the young planet from the increased level of solar radiation it received relative to Earth. Speed up Venus’ rotation, and the weather patterns that dominate its atmospheric behavior change. As a result, surface temperatures rise markedly.

While our ability to estimate ancient Venusian climate is limited by our understanding of the planet and its evolution, results like this are interesting when considered through the lens of a Fermi Paradox solution we discussed earlier this year. One argument for why we’ve found no evidence of other life to date is that while the conditions for life to arise may be initially abundant, only a handful of planets manage to sustain life long enough for that life to begin reshaping its own biosphere on a global level. On Earth, events like the Great Oxygenation Event reshaped our entire atmosphere and, by extension, our entire biome. On Venus or Mars, even if life initially arose, it was unable to overcome other forces that were heating the planet and driving a runaway greenhouse effect (Venus), or cooling it, leading to the evaporation and sublimation of available water (Mars). Venus’ lacks plate tectonics but has been extensively reshaped by volcanism; these eruptions are thought to be partially responsible for the current climate and toxic hell-stew atmosphere.

Humans will likely never live on the surface of Venus; the environment is hilariously noxious to our own existence. The challenges Venusian terraformers would face make Mars look like a walk in the park, though there’s actually been some interesting proposals to create floating colonies in the upper layers of the Venusian atmosphere. Still, understanding how Venus’ atmosphere and characteristics evolved over time could help us focus our efforts to find stars with planets within their own habitable zones.

Source: ExtremeTech

Gravity readings tell us what’s inside Ceres

Gravity readings tell us what’s inside Ceres

As a bench scientist, normally when I say “data will be forthcoming,” there’s a certain delay implied. Data will be forthcoming after a certain delta-t. But NASA apparently has different ideas. Well after its planned EOL, the Dawn orbiter was still in good health, so at the end of July, NASA extended its mission at the dwarf planet Ceres. Without missing a beat, Dawn just batched us a ton of data about Ceres’ interior structure.

In addition to a slew of photos, Dawn also provides information about gravity fields it moves through, by way of NASA’s Deep Space Network. The DSN monitors the Doppler shift from the spacecraft, and it can pick up variations in speed as small as 0.1mm/sec. This extreme precision lets it use the gravitational inconsistencies of Ceres’ interior to tell us about what the planet must be made of inside.

Ceres

Ceres’ unusual bright spots demonstrated there could be more to the planetoid than met the eye

It appears that, during a heating phase early in the history of Ceres, water and other light materials partially separated from rock and floated up to the outer layer of Ceres. This process is called “differentiation,” and it’s exactly like how our own planet’s core separated from the mantle and crust. But Ceres’ layers aren’t so distinct. The messy divisions between rock, ice, and gravely debris suggest that the interior structure of the iceball dwarf planet is changed by its rotation, since it doesn’t experience much tidal force.

Tiny perturbations in the gravitational environment around Ceres can tell us about how its slushy innards move around. Dawn can pick up these perturbations, using its participation with NASA’s DSN. Anomalies in the field around Ceres are how we know that its interior is both layered and relatively messy.

Scientists also discovered that higher-elevation areas on Ceres displace mass in the interior, much like how a boat floats on water: The volume of water displaced depends on the mass of the boat. They conclude that Ceres’ soft, icy mantle can be pushed aside by the ponderous mass of mountains, as if the high-elevation areas were floating on the material below.

The icy upper layer also supports the idea that Ceres’ strangely crater-free surface might be a result of its own structural properties. Frost heave could have obliterated the biggest craters on Ceres, and if most of the surface is ice, there’s a lot of frost to heave. Further readings will help to confirm or correct this hypothesis, and despite Dawn’s dwindling fuel reserves, it will be in orbit collecting data until at least 2019.

A lot of NASA’s equipment seems to be pretty busted and janky these days — Curiosity keeps going into safety mode, Dawn’s running out of fuel, Kepler’s reaction wheels are jammed, and Hubble is straight-up on its last legs. But they’re making it a point to do what they can with what they have — how can they do otherwise? Dawn still has a fair bit of its hydrazine as well as the use of its ion engine, which is why NASA extended the mission. Make hay while the sun shines.

Source: ExtremeTech

ET deals: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 14-inch Ultrabook for $959

ET deals: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 14-inch Ultrabook for 9

If you’re looking for a thin, lightweight laptop with all-day battery life, check out the ThinkPad X1 Carbon from Lenovo. It only weighs about 2.6 pounds, measures less than seven-tenths of an inch thick, and holds nearly 10 hours of battery life on a single charge. Better yet, today’s coupon will help you save over 400 bucks off the list price.

small X1 So, what exactly are we looking at here? This configuration sports a sixth generation dual-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U CPU, integrated Intel HD Graphics 520, 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, a 180GB solid-state drive, Bluetooth 4.1, and 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi support. But the best part is definitely the 14-inch display. Not only does it have a native full HD resolution of 1920×1080, but the in-plane switching means you’ll be able to view the screen from nearly any angle.

Obviously, the X1 Carbon is a superb traveling companion, but it’s also a solid workhorse when you’re at your desk. It features three USB 3.0 ports to make adding extra storage or an optical drive a breeze. And with the built-in HDMI port and mini DisplayPort, you can easily attach your favorite external display.

By default, it comes with Windows 10 Home (64-bit) installed on the drive, so you’ll have access to awesome new features like local Xbox One gameplay streaming, the Cortana personal assistant, and hundreds of thousands of apps in the Windows Store.

While this laptop typically retails for $1369, Lenovo is selling it directly for $1026.75. If you use coupon code “SAV30THINKPAD” in your shopping cart, you’ll save an additional $68.45. And thanks to the free standard shipping provided by Lenovo, you end up only paying $958.30 (plus any applicable taxes). This bargain won’t last forever, though. Take advantage of the deal while it lasts.

Our commerce group sources the best deals and products for the ET Deals posts. We operate independently of Editorial and Advertising and may earn a percentage of the sale, if you buy something via a link on the post. If you are interested in promoting your deals, please contact us at commerce@ziffdavis.com.

For more great deals head over to TechBargains.

Source: ExtremeTech

New eHorizon system warns of road hazards just around the corner

New eHorizon system warns of road hazards just around the corner

Continental’s new dynamic mapping system, eHorizon, promises to alert drivers to hazards beyond their line of sight. It will build on information gleaned from cars ahead that is sent via smartphone to the cloud, then passed on to nearby vehicles. It may also help drivers save fuel. Continental says eHorizon will come to market in 2018 or 2019.

eHorizon, in its current state at least, doesn’t enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. That requires Wi-Fi-like transponders in cars, something that is years away. But today, just about everyone has a smartphone, something eHorizon could leverage quickly.

Continental e-Horizon city view

Cars ahead become the eyes for cars behind

Continental describes eHorizon as a dynamic map system — as in freshly updated, not just a moving map. Car navigation today can show slow-moving traffic and accidents as map overlays with estimated delay times. Continental says eHorizon provides more detail that’s closer to real time. When a car ahead reacts to something unusual about the driving situation, that information is sent via the cellular network to the cloud, where it’s combined with other reports, if any, on that specific traffic situation. It also includes data from traffic flow generally and mid-term traffic issues such as a lane closure or construction.

Continental has demonstrated eHorizon recently on a specially outfitted Cadillac CT6. It receives a signal indicating a road hazard, at which point a warning light illuminates on the dash, and the car’s navigation map and/or multi-information display in the instrument cluster counts down the distance.

eHorizon stems from a 2013 partnership among Continental, Cisco, and IBM, later joined by Here, the Chicago mapping firm formerly called Navteq and now held by Audi (VW Group), BMW, and Daimler.

Continental e-Horizon 48V car

What else eHorizon can do

Continental says eHorizon can provide dynamic data, specific by lane, encompassing posted and actual speeds, traffic lights, construction areas, and obstacles in the road or at the side of the road (such as an emergency vehicle, which in many states now requires drivers to move one lane over). It’s possible eHorizon could take cues from a preceding vehicle’s equipment status. If several cars ahead have their wipers on, it might be a cloudburst; if several cars engage stability control, there might be ice on the road or bridge; if there’s sudden braking, there could be a car stalled in a travel lane.

For fuel savings, Continental says in a test with static maps (no real time overlays), and knowledge of the terrain and of a specific vehicle’s capabilities lets eHorizon suggest the proper gear to be in. On commercial vehicles, this yielded a 3% savings.

Continental also has a 48-volt Eco Drive hybrid-electric drive system that splits the difference (in performance and cost) between 12 volt stop-start systems and conventional hybrids with 200-plus-volt drive systems. eHorizon would engage, disengage, or more lightly / heavily stress the electric drivetrain if, say, the car knew a long downhill was coming up and so could drain the battery just before regenerating battery power going downhill.

This will not amuse Google

If some of this sounds like what Waze does, for free, you’re right. Continental is banking on providing more and better information. Continental is a huge technology company with $43 billion in revenues last year, but the owner of Waze since 2013 is Alphabet (Google), the world’s third biggest company with its own plans for navigation.

For real-time traffic information, mapping, and hazard avoidance to work, there has to be common ground among vendors. There certainly can’t be multiple V2V systems that are incompatible, and it seems unlikely a single vendor could grow so big it can have its private, unshared cache of traffic information be more accurate than everyone else combined. It will help if governments create smart traffic lights and other signals whose status is freely broadcast online, but in the meantime, that could be captured by in-car cameras. That kind of information is necessary for self-driving cars. eHorizon is a waypoint toward V2V and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) systems needed for autonomous driving and so-called smart cities.

Source: ExtremeTech

Good News: HTC’s New VR App Store Isn’t Just for Gamers

Good News: HTC’s New VR App Store Isn’t Just for Gamers

ViveportTA.jpg

Source: WIRED

This week in space: Ceres, Io, and an interesting answer to the Fermi paradox

This week in space: Ceres, Io, and an interesting answer to the Fermi paradox

From exoplanet research and Io’s unusual atmosphere to triple supernovas, it’s been an interesting week. Here’s what you may have missed in space and space technology.

Superbubbles in space

Astronomers found a rare triple “superbubble” in a star nursery in M33, our nearest galactic neighbor. Three concentric supernovae form a glowing triple shell around a cluster of young stars. Scientists are examining this large-scale structure and other such odd birds to learn more about how galaxies, and the universe as a whole, evolved.

A new angle on the Fermi paradox

From Harvard this week comes a compelling and evidence-based answer to the evergreen question: if there’s life beyond our planet, where is it?

The scientists’ logic goes like this: Our sun is an unexceptional G-type main-sequence yellow dwarf. It’s about 4.5 billion years old, more or less typical for a star of its mass. Above three solar masses or so, stars don’t live too long — they expire violently, which the Harvard team thinks means the biggest stars die before complex life could have a chance to evolve. On the other end of the scale, on planets whose atmosphere survived the dangerous early lives of extremely long-lived red dwarf stars, life could take off at its leisure. In such a star system, the probability of life grows by orders of magnitude into the distant future.

In the current generation of stars, we’re probably coming along relatively early in the grand scheme of things. Like the kid with the September birthday, we’re among the first born in our class; the report concludes that in terms of star lifetimes, which is to say in terms of time to emergence of life, we and our Sun are precocious, probably within the first percentile. Those familiar with the Great Filter theory, though, may note that this means that the Great Filter is yet before us.

Arguments that are founded in “but we’re special” logic are difficult to support, but wouldn’t it be something if we turned out to be one of the First Ones? We humans, with all our stories about the Old Ones, the Outsiders, those from Beyond the Rim — wouldn’t it be funny if the Old Ones turned out to be us?

Gravity readings let us look inside Ceres

Ceres is the biggest thing in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. As a dwarf planet with an ice-ball surface covered in frozen ammonia, it’s solidly unattractive for human habitation or even mining. But we’ve got a satellite around it taking spectrographic and gravity readings so we can answer questions about the formation of our own rocky little planet. Recent data from Dawn tells us that Ceres’ interior is made of layers of rock, gravel, and ice, but the boundaries between its layers are messy.

Bright, bluish places represent salty, sulfurous ice. Image: NASA

Occator Crater, the brightest place on Ceres. Blue represents salty, sulfate-rich ice. Image: NASA

We think Ceres’ internal structure is mostly dictated by its movement, because it doesn’t experience much in the way of tidal forces, and it also doesn’t seem to have changed much since the initial heating event during which the planet’s structure differentiated. Having an outer layer composed mainly of ice supports the theory that emergent properties of Ceres’ own structure are responsible for its strangely crater-less surface.

Io and its amazing bouncing atmosphere

It’s hard to be superlative about this. Once a day, every day, Io’s sulfur dioxide atmosphere freezes and falls to the surface while Jupiter eclipses the sun. Once the sun strikes the surface again, the SO2 frost sublimates into a gas, and the little moon’s delicate atmosphere bounces right back.

Thanks to recent readings from Juno, too, our portrait of Jupiter and its moons keeps getting better. Io is a frigid, sulfurous moonsicle racked by cryovolcanic eruptions and bombarded by radiation. On second thought, let’s not go to Io. ‘Tis a silly place.

Image: SWRI

Io’s surface. Yikes. Image: SWRI

Gorgeous light show, no telescope necessary

Also, this is actually a preview for next week, but: If you want to watch a meteor shower that won’t disappoint, check out the Perseids. They will peak in intensity over the nights between August 11-12 and 12-13, sometimes approaching rates of 200 meteors per hour — about double their usual count.

Why so intense? As the Earth passes into the orbital path of the Swift-Tuttle comet, its debris form the Perseid shower. But this year, there’s a happy confluence of circumstance. Jupiter’s position in its own orbit means that it’s nudging a greater share of comet debris into our path than we see in most years.

While the Perseids aren’t yet at their peak, they’ve already started, so watch the live webcast from NASA. Better yet, go outside and look up!

Source: ExtremeTech

Apple’s stagnant product lines mostly reflect the state of the computer industry

Apple’s stagnant product lines mostly reflect the state of the computer industry

Most of Apple’s product lines are severely overdue for a refresh. Apart from the recently refreshed MacBook, many of the company’s Mac products are well over a year old. The Mac Mini is nearly two, the high-end workstation Mac Pro is almost three, and the sole remaining non-Retina MacBook Pro is now more than four years old.

Writing for The Verge, Sam Byford recently argued that “Apple should stop selling four year-old computers.” He’s not wrong to note the 2012-era MacBook Pro is pretty long in the tooth with its 4GB of RAM and Ivy Bridge-based processor, or that Apple has neglected specific products, like the Mac Mini. I thought about writing a similar article last month, but with a specific focus on the Mac Pro. After digging around in Intel’s Ark (a tool that lets you compare the specifics of various Intel processors), I realized that while there are exceptions, Apple’s relatively lax refresh cycle is mostly driven by the low rate of improvements in PC hardware these days. Apple is just more honest about it.

Meet the new CPU, same as the old CPU

Setting aside the non-Retina MacBook Pro from 2012, most of Apple’s laptops are running on Broadwell or Skylake (the 2016 MacBook). There’s a single SKU left over from Haswell at the $1,999 price point, but the laptop lineup is pretty new.

Byford is right when he calls out the nearly three-year gap between the Mac Pro’s debut and the present day, but he doesn’t specifically discuss just how little this has meant to the machine’s top end performance. The Mac Pro ships in two configurations we’ll address: An Ivy Bridge Xeon quad-core at 3.7GHz with 10MB L3 (E5-1620 v2) or a 2.7GHz 12-core IVB-EP CPU with 30MB L3 (E5-2697 v2). Let’s compare those with their counterparts today.

Xeon-Comparison-Chart

In the chart above, we’ve arranged each IVB chip on the left, followed by its modern counterpart. Intel doesn’t have a 12-core Broadwell chip in the 135W TDP bracket, only in 105W and 160W flavors. There are higher-core count systems with lower clock speeds, but our hypothetical test-case is a user who wants both high clocks and high core counts.

The first thing to note is how little Intel’s chip lineup has actually changed in the past three years. The modern E5-2687 v4 has a slightly higher base clock speed but a significantly higher TDP. Top frequency is identical between the two. Broadwell offers essentially no clock speed improvements over IVB-E at the quad-core level — in fact, the IVB-EP actually clocked higher than its counterpart. True, architectural improvements will compensate for some of this, but not by much — Haswell was roughly 8% faster than IVB-E, and Skylake hasn’t come to the E5 family yet. You’d get some uplift if your application supports and makes significant use of AVX2, but otherwise? There’s not a lot of upgrade to be had.

In short, there’s just not much reason to update the Mac Pro’s CPU — not until and unless Intel can field designs that truly merit it. While Apple will likely eventually refresh the Mac Pro, the only big winners will be Mac users who want to pack as many threads as possible into a single-socket system (Intel now offers Xeons with up to 22 cores in the E5 family).

What about GPUs?

GPUs are where the lengthy wait times in between refresh cycles really does bite customers. The current top-end Mac Pro fields a pair of D700 graphics cards based on AMD’s original GCN 1.0 architecture. AMD has built multiple cards that could’ve been used to upgrade these configurations, while the Polaris GPU inside the RX 480 would deliver better performance and more VRAM at a much lower TDP and price point.

The problem with criticizing Apple’s GPU performance is that Apple doesn’t care all that much about graphics, period. OS X continues to field a version of OpenGL that’s nearly six years old and Apple isn’t supporting Vulkan, instead choosing to field its own close-to-metal API, Metal. Apple isn’t exactly out of step with the rest of the industry; outside of boutique laptops, there just aren’t very many systems shipping with discrete GPUs any more — at least, not many below the $1,000 price point, and not with decent graphics hardware. If your workloads depend on GPUs and scale with graphics horsepower, you aren’t using Apple. (There are plenty of workloads that run better on GPUs than CPUs, but don’t actually scale all that well, which is why I make that distinction).

For a brief moment in 2013, with the launch of the Mac Pro, it looked like Apple might embrace OpenCL, GPGPU programming and offload, and put a new focus on integrating high-end GPUs into its various products. That moment has come and gone. While I do suspect we’ll see Apple hardware with refreshed graphics hardware, it’ll be the 14nm refresh cycle that drives it, not any particular interest in GPU computing or graphics as a whole.

So… where’s that leave us?

I’m not an Apple apologist. I use an iPhone, granted, but I’m still back on the 5c and I plan to use it until the screen cracks or the battery dies. Posts like this inevitably ignite arguments over whether Apple devices are worth paying for, and whether a different manufacturer offers more value at a given price point. Spoiler alert: Oftentimes, they do, though you may have to do an infuriating amount of searching before finding a system you actually like.

It’s been a while since Apple updated its hardware, some of that hardware could be better than it is, and the net result would be systems that were at least a little sexier than they are today. But Apple has kept updating most of its laptop lines to take advantage of better battery life and performance improvements, while the performance of desktop CPUs has largely stagnated. Is it ignoring GPUs? Yes — but that’s completely par for Apple. The Mac Pro in 2013 was unusual precisely because it put GPU compute first and foremost. Apple’s decision to mostly ignore the segment afterwards might be unfortunate, but it’s scarcely surprising.

Apple has held off on making fundamental platform changes precisely because it’s been waiting for the underlying technology to advance enough to make the changes worthwhile. Given the frustration of sorting through hundreds of nearly identical laptops from multiple manufacturers every time a friend or family member asks for help choosing a laptop, I’m not sure I can blame them.

Source: ExtremeTech

How to buy DIY home alarm and security systems

How to buy DIY home alarm and security systems

While cybercrime is growing, and grabbing most of the headlines recently, physical crime hasn’t gone away. Over 2 million homes and apartments in the USA are broken into each year. The price isn’t just whatever is stolen, but is also the emotional cost of both sentimental items and the sense of violation. With the growth of credit card fraud and identity theft, burglary can also lead to cybercrime. In one recent case, a homeowner’s credit card was used by the thieves within minutes after the break-in.

A security system is one of the best lines of defense in protecting your home. There are many well-known options for turn-key, monitored alarm systems that come with a professional installer and a monthly fee. Being ExtremeTech, we’ll skip past those and talk about some options for rolling your own.

Security systems you can install yourself

DIY home security systems let you monitor your home from your phone wherever you areDIY security systems either start with a focus on security itself, like iSmartAlarm and SimpliSafe, or start as home automation products and add on security functionality, like Samsung’s SmartThings. Each company tends to have a unique pitch, so scrolling through their product listing will help give you a sense of which one will be best for you. For example, iSmartAlarm has really focused on internet-connected cameras. I’ve been a customer since they were a KickStarter project, and their iCamera KEEP and Spot are both clever ways of keeping an eye on your home without monthly fees. However, they are far behind on delivering many of their promised product line extensions, so for now you’re limited to motion and contact sensors to complement cameras.

SimpliSafe has taken a nearly opposite approach. It has a broad line up of sensors — including freeze, water, smoke, and carbon monoxide — and security features, but no cameras (and have put their first promised camera on indefinite hold). Being able to “look in” via a camera when a sensor is triggered is incredibly useful, as otherwise if you are traveling, it is hard to know how panicked to be about an alert. I also like that SimpliSafe uses Lithium Ion batteries for its sensors, giving them an estimated five-year lifespan. The button batteries used in my iSmartAlarm contact sensors seem to go out at least once a year.

Both iSmartAlarm and SimpliSafe provide mostly closed systems. They are purpose-built for security and are not general purpose home automation systems — although we have been able to teach our Amazon Echo to let us control iSmartAlarm using voice activation. If instead you really want a full home automation system with security features, Samsung’s SmartThings may be right for you. It takes more work to set up, but Samsung’s hub supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave in addition to the more typical IP interface. Samsung has also built a large collection of compatible products sold by partners, so you’ll have the most flexibility over time.

One unavoidable downside to wireless security systems is that, like just about everything else in the IoT, they can be hacked. As a practical matter most of those hacks — like the one SimpliSafe is supposedly vulnerable to — require a level of dedication and sophistication beyond that of most criminals, but it is something to keep in mind. Make sure and keep your system up to date with security patches as they are released.

Combining a DIY system with professional monitoring

LiveWatch includes an Android tablet with their inexpensive bundels, but charges a hefty monthly monitoring fee so you pay for it in the endTraditional alarm companies like ADT require that they install your system, at least partially, so they know what they are monitoring and can stand behind it. However, installing your own system doesn’t mean it can’t be professionally monitored. LiveWatch, for example, lets you save money by installing your own system, but then will monitor it for a subscription fee that starts at $35/month. SimpliSafe also offers optional monitoring, starting at $15/month and rising to $25/month if you want to also use their mobile app and web portal.

At this point, we need to at least mention the issue of privacy and data sharing. All of these systems rely to one degree or another on the cloud, and all of them pass at least some of your data — for example when you leave and return home — through their servers. Most of us are willing to live with that, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Whatever you do, advertise your efforts

The first goal of a good security system is to deter criminals from even trying to break in. To that end, make sure and advertise that you’ve got cameras and or alarms. As both an additional deterrent, and to help track down thieves after the fact, you may want to add a more extensive video monitoring system, separate from the minimal amount provided by your security system vendor. To get you started on that, we’ve provided a companion overview of DIY home video monitoring.

Use signs to advertise your use of security technology as a deterrentIf you do install additional outdoor cameras, you may want to hide some of them so that it isn’t obvious to a potential thief how they can work around or disable them. But even so, it’s much better to have visible deterrents prevent a crime than to have the consolation prize of a video record of a theft. If you do have visible cameras, you may want to make sure that they are recording to a separate location, so that simply removing the camera or its SD card won’t be enough for a criminal to erase the record of your actions.

You’ve just made yourself an IT administrator

The dark secret of any so-called Internet of Things solution is that they all require some amount of attention on a regular basis. For starters, all truly wireless devices need to have their batteries checked and replaced as needed. Those that are hard-wired for power, but use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for connectivity, can lose their connection and need to be reset or reconfigured.

Most devices will also require firmware updates. In some cases, those aren’t optional. For example, iSmartAlarm pushed an update to our Hub, and it meant I couldn’t use the cameras any more until I updated the firmware on each of them.

Limiting the damage if you are robbed

For many, the loss of a phone or computer is less painful than the loss of what they contain. There are some simple steps you can take to minimize the downside of having your favorite mobile or other computing devices ripped off. First, make sure everything you care about is backed up — either to the cloud, or at least to another device that is located somewhere unlikely to be found by thieves. That includes photos, videos, financial records, and so on.

Second, secure your devices to make it less likely that someone who steals them can use them to steal from you electronically, or steal your identity. Encrypting your hard drive, requiring a password on resume from sleep, and activating your phone’s Find My Phone feature are all excellent tactics. Similarly, a walk-through video of everything visible in your house or business will help you quickly notice what is missing, and provide some documentation for helping you file insurance claims.

Whichever system you install, pay attention to its message logs to make sure it isn’t trying to warn you about offline sensors or rundown batteries. You don’t want to find out that a sensor wasn’t working by having someone break in.

Now read: How to get started with DIY home surveillance systems

In time for Black Hat and DEFCON, we’re covering security, cyberwar, and online crime all this week; check out the rest of our Security Week stories for more in-depth coverage.

Source: ExtremeTech