Atlas Robot Turns the Other Cheek

google-boston-dynamics-atlas-robot

Google-owned Boston Dynamics on Tuesday gave the world a look at the latest version of Atlas, a bipedal robot that someday could threaten manual laborers’ livelihoods.

Boston Dynamics certainly didn’t say or imply that the fast-progressing Atlas robot would force humans out of their jobs. The clandestine group merely demonstrated the latest build of the bot, and gave it a cringeworthy battering to show how it responded to abuse.

Giant Holding the World

The latest generation of Atlas is more compact than its predecessor even though it also is unleashed from the power tether that pumped life into its grandfather’s hydraulic limbs.

This current version is 5 foot 9 inches tall and weighs in at 180 pounds, compared to the previous Atlas’ 6 foot 330-pound build.

Atlas is featured in a demo video walking away from his stable mates and heading outside to showcase its ability to trek across uneven, snowy terrain. Later, the bot shows off its industrious side, and then allows its handler to torment it.

Atlas reclaims items knocked out of its grip and eerily springs back to its feet after being shoved onto its face. After enduring its human antagonist’s repeated assaults, Atlas is shown leaving the scene.

It was just last year, during the DARPA challenge that made Boston Dynamics famous, that none of the robotic entrants was capable of opening doors, as is this latest version of Atlas.

“This video counters some of the skepticism about how fast the field of robotics is moving forward,” said Aditya Kaul, research director for Tractica.

Still, it’s important to question just how controlled the environment was when Atlas was being filmed, Kaul told TechNewsWorld. One has to question if the robot would behave similarly in the real world, “without any preprogramming or preconditioning.”

They Took Our Jobs!

Big Dog, Boston Dynamics’ bot of burden, may hint at the future of warfare, as the four-legged robot marches up and down hills to the eerie songs of its hydraulic joints. That notion was, if anything, heightened by the fact that it was an entrant in a DARPA competition.

Though based on much of the same technology, Atlas is a different beast. It’s anthropomorphic proportions and humanoid build empower the robot to tackle tasks that typically are intended for humans, noted Wendell Chun, principal analyst at Tractica.

“This is natural, since everything in this world is built for and around humans: using hand tools, passing through doors for ingress and egress, ascending stairs, cooking, painting a house, and so on,”.

The human body can serve as a model for certain types of robot, but even though it’s a “remarkable work of nature,” Chun said, there are some inherent limitations to the human form.

It may be a good while before robotic adherents to Asimov’s laws find their place in the home, suggested Kaul. Atlas, et al, seem more suited to enterprise settings.

“Our thesis is that the most successful consumer robot that will have an impact on society as a whole will be the autonomous or partially autonomous car,” Kaul said. “By 2020, we forecast that 60 percent of all luxury cars will have some form of partial or fully autonomous capability.”

Giant Leap for Humanoidkind

Still, Atlas may have taken a few steps down the path to welcoming humanoid robots into the workforce.

Getting a robot to balance on two legs and avoid obstacles has been a 25-year journey for Boston Dynamics, observed Chun.

Yet there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. For example, Boston Dynamics must find a better source of wireless power and a better means of reducing engine sounds to allow for stealthy operations, he pointed out.

“Robot mechanics, dynamics and control are continuously evolving,” Chun said. “The next big step is to incorporate the advancement of AI software to make the robot more capable.”

That’s something Google’s other divisions have been working on, through initiatives such as its self-driving cars and DeepMind artificial intelligence research.

“Processing hardware capabilities are still increasing exponentially, but it is the advancements in learning, reasoning and inference software that will push robotics to a new level,” Chun said. “When that day comes, we at least know that if the Atlas robot falls, it will be able to get up by itself.”

Facebook TIPs the Scales Toward Better Networking

Facebook Telecom Infra Project

Facebook on Sunday at the 2016 Mobile World Congress announced its Telecom Infra Project, an engineering initiative aimed at developing new technologies and approaches to building and deploying telecom network infrastructure.

TIP will bring together telecommunications companies, infrastructure providers, system integrators and other technology companies, according to Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure.

In essence, Facebook wants to become a provider hub of globally shared content.

People and devices are coming online in increasing numbers around the world, making it easier to share data-intensive experiences such as video and virtual reality, Parikh said. However, the industry has been too slow in scaling traditional telecom infrastructure to meet the global data challenge.

If TIP is successful, it could be a game-changer. Content is and always has been king, and Facebook needs the telecommunications providers to efficiently deliver content, said Michael Bremmer, CEO of Telecom Quotes.

“Facebook is changing the game because telecom is dominated by players who do not want the game to change and are not used to actual competition,” he told LinuxInsider.

Possible Fly in the Ointment

However, the major telecom suppliers are concerned about lowering their profitability and have been unable to find other ways to monetize their assets, according to Bremmer.

“This is an industry that literally still thinks in billing by the X — long distance, byte, etc.,” he said.

TIP’s task will be to enable telecom operators and the broader telecom industry to be more flexible, innovative and efficient in order to expand connectivity, according to Parikh.

It is tied into Facebook’s other connectivity efforts already underway through Internet.org.

An Open Concept

The endgame is to get better wireless networks, and Facebook is calling on a previous play to drive its plan forward: the Open Compute Project, which led telcos to rebuild the hardware that powered data centers.

TIP members will align their efforts to contribute designs in three areas: access, backhaul, and core and management. The initiative will apply the Open Compute Project models of openness and disaggregation to spur innovation, noted Parikh.

Facebook hopes to unbundle the closed system of component pieces that make up the network and give network operators more flexibility in building networks. It also will result in major gains in cost and operational efficiency for both rural and urban deployments, Parikh said.

The announcement is an interesting move that says as much about Facebook’s growing stature and influence as it does about the increasing overlap between technologies and vendors’ market strategies, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“An ongoing problem in IT is the lack of consensus/collaboration among competing parties. If Facebook can get vendors to play nice and work together, chances are good that technological evolution and innovation will accelerate,” he told LinuxInsider.

Here Comes 5G

If the plan works, it could speed the emergence of 5G networks and related services.

“That is something many in the industry are hoping for, though I think translating that into profitable market demand has a long way to go,” King said.

Bringing divergent industry players together will be helpful in making 5G a reality, noted Brian Lavallée, director of solutions and technology marketing atCiena.

“The evolution toward 5G will affect the entire end-to-end network infrastructure, from virtualizing the radio access network and Evolved Packet Core to upgrading the radio and air interfaces to segments interconnecting air-based to land-based networks — the mobile backhaul network,” he told LinuxInsider.

A heterogeneous network of different cell types will be required to obtain aggressive performance gains in speed, latency and coverage. The intelligent utilization of these cell types will result in a highly flexible 5G mobile network architecture optimized for significant, overall performance gains, Lavallée said.

Facebook Wins Either Way

Facebook is in a no-lose position, noted King. If the project succeeds, the company gets praise for its foresight and willingness to play mediator.

“The history of IT is littered with dead or moribund industry collaborations. If Facebook fails, it can bemoan lost opportunities and then get back to the business it knows best,” he said.

If it does not work out, Facebook really does not lose much, Bremmer noted. People still want their product and may force the other companies to innovate.

“Facebook’s biggest problem is it is an app,” he said. “This was proven by the failure of the Facebook phone. Facebook is dependent on others to deliver their content.”

Facebook Gives Us More Ways to Push Each Other’s Buttons

facebook-reactions-emojis

Facebook on Wednesday rolled out a new set of options for its 1.5 billion monthly users to use when responding to posts in their News Feeds.

The six “Reactions,” as Facebook has termed them, allow users to make more nuanced responses to posts rather than simply clicking on “Like.”

“We’ve been listening to people and know that there should be more ways to easily and quickly express how something you see in News Feed makes you feel,” explained Sammi Krug, product manager at Facebook. “That’s why today we are launching Reactions, an extension of the Like button, to give you more ways to share your reaction to a post in a quick and easy way.”

The additional options are Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry. When users scroll over the standard Like button, the new emojis pop up.

Advertising Reactions

The Reactions aren’t for users alone. They will provide Facebook with a deeper understanding of how people feel toward various posts — data Facebook potentially could use to help marketers create more meaningful content and ads, said Neal Schaffer, president of Maximize Your Social.

“I think what Facebook is trying to do is to get more information about how we engage with different types of content,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Ultimately, I think they’re going to use that data in optimizing their algorithm — for example, to determine what content they show us in the News Feed. For marketers, there’s not much we can do until they release that data to us,” Schaffer said.

“One advantage for marketers could be that even if users didn’t necessarily press Like, maybe some of these other emotions will trigger something within them, and they’ll engage with the content,” he said.

Getting more detailed feedback on Facebook ads would be a huge advantage for marketers, noted Tammy Martin, CEO of Martin Marketing.

Instead of limiting Facebook advertisers to a black-and-white view of ad reactions and effectiveness, this addition could give them a deeper understanding of users’ attitudes toward ad content, she told TechNewsWorld.

“Right now we, as advertisers, get feedback on whether people like or dislike our ad content. We can see if people are responding negatively to ads, but beyond that we’re not getting much more. It’s sort of polarized feedback,” Martin said. “If there’s some middle-of-the-road feedback — colder or warmer — that would be helpful for marketing efforts. I see this change as benefiting advertisers in the long run.”

Facebook’s Evolution

Not long ago, Facebook added another way for people to engage: the hashtag. Although it’s a popular tool on Twitter, the hashtag never caught on in the Facebook community, Schaffer noted.

Like the hashtag, the new emojis may reflect Facebook’s effort to integrate tools that are popular with younger users into the Facebook platform.

“Facebook was behind in these kinds of stamps. They’ve been trying to bring in things from social networks of younger demographics into the Facebook platform,” Schaffer said.

“In fact, when you look at these emoji, they look really big for emoji, and you only get six different ones — whereas if you’re on Instagram and you’re using a smartphone, there are hundreds of emoji for you to choose from,” he pointed out.

“One way of looking at is that Facebook is trying to take things that the younger demographic — who are hyperactive on social and mobile — are using, and trying to standardize it and format it to the masses,” Schaffer said, “and the masses on FB are in their 30s and 40s, not in their teens and 20s.”

Another factor affecting this change is the additional time it might take a user to choose how they feel about a particular post. Before the emojis were added, Facebook users had two choices: They could like a post or not like it. Now, users must decide which emotion best represents their feelings.

That makes it not only time consuming, Schaffer pointed out, but also political. People will spend more time trying to interpret the various reactions of their friends on Facebook.

“Until now, you either liked something or you didn’t,” he said. “Now we have a wide variety of emotions which users can choose to express themselves. I’m on the fence about how many people will embrace it. In the past, it’s just been a like. Now people have to spend extra time figuring out which emotion best represents their feelings. We’re all busy, and we don’t have a lot of time. It might actually [reduce] engagement.”

RebeccaBlackOS Is a Class Act

RebeccaBlackOS Is a Class Act

RebeccaBlackOS is a Debian Testing-based live distribution that offers a developmental view ofWayland-based Linux desktop sessions.

A few other distro makers such as Fedora have prototypes of Wayland running, but the options for different desktop environments available all from one live-session DVD caught my attention. Anyone curious about where Wayland development and Linux distros in general are headed can get a first look from the fan-based RBOS distro.

You cannot use this beta release as a replacement for a well-stocked Linux workhorse for all of your computing tasks. Some of the desktop modules work well, however. The release is more of a proof of concept by developers working with the new Wayland display server software that may eventually replace the aging X Window System you know as “X.Org.”

RebeccaBlackOS lets you test out the developing capabilities. As such, I will treat the distro release as a standard Linux Picks and Pans distribution review. The focus this week is a change-of-pace look at something new. The distro — as well as Wayland itself — is not yet ready for prime-time consideration.

RebeccaBlackOS offers a sampling of Wayland and several new desktop shells to run on it. One of them is the 5 Hawaii Desktop. Weston so far is being touted as the default desktop shell for Wayland. This is the reference implementation of Wayland compositor written by Wayland developers.

A few separate teams of developers are working toward a compilation of releases running Wayland and its related Weston compositor. One such plan is by a developer who goes by the handle “Nerdopolis.” He is the brains behind RBOS. His distro attempts to showcase Wayland running several desktop environments that load by selection when you log in to Wayland’s display manager.

RBOS Boot Pick a Session

When the RBOS distro running Wayland boots, users select their preferred desktop environment.

The RBOS release is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds for the x86 architecture. It features the Weston desktop shell, Enlightenment Desktop,Gnome 3, Hawaii Desktop, KDE Desktop, Orment, Sway and the Papyros Desktop on Wayland.

Wayland Background

Wayland is a new display server slowly getting ready for release to Linux distributions as an alternative to X.Org. Development is bogged down on getting functionality to support the majority of user interface toolkits — GTK and Qt and such.

Wayland is software that runs between the input and output to coordinate the on-screen display. It handles the directions from mouse input and windows behavior control buttons and provides the needed interaction between the Linux user and the GUI to keep the operating system humming along.

Why the change? X.Org is several decades old. It has been adjusted and tweaked beyond its capabilities, according to developer communities. They want to throw out the old and bring in the new to avoid compounding existing bugs and security holes that no doubt lurk within.

One of the primary forces behind the development push for a change isCanonical, the developer of Ubuntu Linux. Its software engineers have been struggling to get the kinks out of their own version of an X.Org replacement dubbed Mir, which they forked from Wayland.

Showing Progress

Depending on your hardware, RBOS may not run some of the desktop environment options listed in the display manager menu. I had varying degrees of success on my combination of six test laptop/desktop computers.

I tested the current ISO booting the OS from the DVD and installing it to virtual machines. The amount of functionality and success in loading the ISO varied with the hardware. Earlier versions of RBOS did not run in a VM environment.

For example, RBOS loaded Gnome, KDE, Enlightenment and Weston on several computers. The other desktop shell options could not load on any computer because modules were missing from the ISO, according to error messages that flashed briefly on the computer screens.

RBOS Enlightenment Desktop

The Enlightenment Desktop running on Wayland is smart and fast and fully functional.

I found the most usable results with running KDE, Enlightenment and Gnome. Those desktop environments have a more complete — but still limited — collection of applications. The Gnome experience was the most satisfying.

That is a surprising admission for me to make, as I generally do not prefer the Gnome 3 shell environment. I also was very intrigued with the Weston shell environment. It offers a much different look and feel compared to the other desktop options.

Weston is the only desktop environment in the mix with which I had no prior experience. As a result of that intrigue, I am focusing on my first impressions of Wayland/Weston for the rest of the review.

Current Status

This newest release incorporates the latest GTK, Qt, SDL2 and Enlightenment code with Wayland and Weston Compositor support. The most significant change in the latest release of RebeccaBlackOS is that Debian Testing now runs Tier 1 packages to comply with Canonical’s new licensing requirements for Ubuntu.

The system installer is Calamares. The Linux kernel is version 4.3. The ISOs are EFI bootable. You can boot the live session DVD on Macs if you use rEFInd.

In case you’re wondering, the distro’s namesake is a singer best known for the viral video for the song “Friday.” No, the distro does not contain any of her music.

Weston First Looks

Weston’s screen design is straight out of classic Linux, until you start clicking launchers anchored on the panel bar at the top of the screen. The Wayland app launcher icon in the far left corner opens a window in random locations on the screen.

That window has a familiar KDE look to it with a search window at the top and a list of application categories in the center. Many of the apps are from the KDE inventory.

Clicking on the carrot to the left of a category expands a list of apps in that category. Highlight the app name to run and click the OK button at the bottom of the window.

The launchers include the Dolphin File Manager, rekong Web browser, terminal window, KDE video mixer, network configuration tool, Weston video converter, power dialog and information.

It’s obvious that the menu system is more of a holding vehicle than a fully functional launcher. Many of the settings apps and applications did not load, presumably because they were not yet available on the ISO.

Overall, the Weston user interface is uncluttered and easy to follow.

RBOS Wayland/Weston

The Wayland/Weston combination produces an uncluttered desktop view with a simple user interface.

Bottom Line

RebeccaBlackOS offers an interesting window into where the Linux desktop might be headed. The developers behind the scenes working on Wayland seem to be making far better progress than the developers working on the Wayland fork Mir. Ubuntu designers have not yet been able to get Mir working with any desktop environment. The last few Ubuntu releases have bypassed the planned Mir debute.

RBOS gives you enough stability to play around with a variety of user interfaces. It’s encouraging that KDE and Gnome 3 shells work so well already on Wayland. The Enlightenment desktop is one of the newest innovations available on several Linux distros, so it should continue to attract interest running so well on Wayland.

RBOS KDE shell environment

The KDE shell environment runs smoothly on a Wayland build with full functionality.

The Weston shell seems to need a lot more work, but it shows promise.

Chicago School Board Elevates Computer Science to Graduation Requirement

chicago-board-education-computer-science-graduation-requirement

The Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday voted unanimously to make computer science a graduation requirement for all high school students beginning with next year’s freshmen.

Chicago Public Schools has become a national leader in computer science education since Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched the Computer Science for All initiative for grades K-12 in 2013, the board said.

The five-year plan aims to make computer science a core subject taught in schools. It includes a partnership with Code.org to provide the curriculum and prepare teachers.

The White House last month launched a national Computer Science for Allprogram.

Exposing students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education early will provide critical skills and training for success in their careers and in life, CPS said.

Demand for computing skills will be greater than the supply of qualified job takers, according to CPS. That will create a gap of 1 million job openings by 2024.

While there were nearly 600,000 job openings in computing, universities produced fewer than 40,000 computer science graduates last year, the board said.

To help close that gap, Chicago public school students will be required to complete one credit of computer science education as half of the two-credit career education requirement.

“Rahm Emanuel’s decision to require computer science in Chicago Public Schools should be lauded. These young men and women will now have the benefit of access to a discipline that would have simply been out of reach before,” said Colleen Ganjian, president of DC College Counseling.

Education Sound

The board’s decision will produce long-term gains, she told TechNewsWorld. If students choose not to pursue computer science after high school, the exposure will make them stronger candidates in the college admissions process. It also will introduce them to a variety of other career paths.

Schools need to embrace STEM to meet growing demand for better career training. There’s an increasing necessity for schools nationwide to better prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow by encouraging STEM, according to Sidharth Oberoi, president of Zaniac.

“Providing exposure to students at a younger age is key to enabling better decision-making for individuals when they reach college or enter the workforce. The more extensive knowledge a student has, the greater the opportunity he or she has for higher salaries as well as the potential to have a larger impact on the betterment of society,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Computer science education is an essential ingredient in the STEM formula and in today’s education, noted Stephen Nichols, CEO of GameSalad.

“It allows for experimentation and rapid iteration and provides students with a platform to utilize and learn the fundamental concepts of software development and programming. A true computer science education will foster creativity and enrich the lives of students around the world and help set them up for future success,” he told TechNewsWorld.

STEM Plus One

Eagle Academy Public Charter School took that concept further by expanding the STEM concept to include the arts in its STEAM curriculum.

STEAM Exploratorium is designed to challenge young students to create, solve problems, experiment, test, adapt, collaborate, explain and develop a sense of curiosity as they learn skills and strategies for the challenges of the 21st century, according to Executive Director Cassandra Pinkney.

The process “fosters engineering and technological literacy among students — an all-important skill set in tomorrow’s world,” she told TechNewsWorld.

School officials are adamant about exposing students to STEAM while they are young and curious, Pinkney said. The goal is to inspire students to continue pursuing the sciences throughout their academic and professional careers.

Essential Component

The Chicago school board’s action requiring computer science credits is important in furthering the intent of the Computer Science for All initiative. It will go a long way to increase the number of STEM candidates, noted Steven Rothberg, president of College Recruiter.

“The more students who are exposed to science, technology, engineering and math courses in high school, the more students who will choose to major in those fields in college, whether they attend a one-year technical/vocational school, a two-year community college or a four-year university,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Exposure to computer science is critical before students enter college. In order for the U.S. to successfully compete in a global market economy, schools must present technological and computer skills early on, according to J. Luke Wood, associate professor in the Community College Leadership program at San Diego State University.

“This move sets Chicago as a national leader in preparing students for readiness in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Our nation is not prepared to compete in the emerging world economy. Our ability to do so cannot solely rely upon bringing in talent from other nations,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“That will require our nation to better prepare students who have been historically underrepresented and underserved in education,” Wood said, “particularly students of color.”

Google Killed the Laptop Star

google-chrome-android-laptops-tablets-advertising

Anyone who went to business school recognizes the basic tenet that you use marketing to build demand in order to sell products. Through the 1990s, there was impressive marketing surrounding laptops — Intel’s iconic Bunny People come to mind. Apple aggressively marketed this class, as did Microsoft, and it seemed every other brand on TV was trying to convince us we needed a new PC.

PC marketing dropped off a cliff in the last decade, and when the iPad launched with a powerful Apple campaign it nearly took out the PC at the knees. That was not because it was better than a PC, but because folks got more excited about buying a tablet. What happened in the 1990s that killed PC marketing?

I think it was Google that drove the margins out of both PCs and tablets, effectively removing the marketing budgets and destroying the demand generation for the segment. Ironically Google pretty much owns Internet marketing, and it gives Android to many of the PC OEMs that don’t realize they are consuming the poison that is killing them.

I’ll explain and then close with my product of the week: a new video conferencing system from Logitech.

Marketing 101

One of the big problems that emerged in the last decade was the elimination of strong marketing talent from most technology companies. It seemed most pronounced in firms like Google and Facebook. Ironically, they made the majority of their income from marketing, but seemed to act like it was some kind of embarrassing illicit substance.

Google, in particular, seemed to distance itself from marketing, and it argued that engineers should do every job in the firm, regardless of the skills required. That likely speaks to why most of its efforts, following its buildup of core revenues from ad sales, haven’t been very successful financially.

Google simply doesn’t understand either the process or need to generate demand, but since it gives away most of its offerings for free, that doesn’t seem to have a huge adverse impact.

Tech Marketing Decline

When Google enters a segment, it tends to enter at very aggressive price points — often free — and that means even if it understood marketing, it would have no product budget to pay for it.

However, while Google’s aggressive downward pressure on PC prices (Chromebooks), tablets and smartphones (Android) has given it beachheads in all of those markets, it also has resulted in very aggressive pricing by other PC and OEM companies. Even Apple is feeling the financial pain, and clearly has cut back on its own spending.

As a result, there isn’t any money left over to build demand for products, and — surprise — that demand appears to be in decline, along with related revenues. Google took what effectively was a very profitable segment and almost singlehandedly made it far less profitable.

When revenues and profits fall, firms cut marketing. When marketing is cut, demand falls, cutting revenues and profits. In short, the result often becomes a death spiral.

As you watch TV tonight, just count the number of car ads, consumable product ads (beer, for instance), cosmetic ads, food ads, service ads and toy ads you see. Well, you can save a lot of effort if you count only PC and tablet ads. It should be pretty easy, because chances are good that the total number will be zero.

People have a fixed amount of money they can spend on things that are discretionary, and if they are being convinced to buy new cars, motorcycles, appliances, TVs and jewelry — plus refresh their smartphones regularly — they won’t have a ton of money for things that they aren’t being convinced they should buy or replace.

The Absolute Irony

Here is the absolute irony: Google doesn’t make money from selling tablets, smartphones or Chromebooks. It makes money selling ads, and using its products to kill profits and marketing dollars results in fewer ads being purchased.

That means Google’s impressive efforts to kill off anything that doesn’t run Android or Chrome are having an adverse near-term impact on the company’s overall ad revenue and its own bottom line.

If people stopped using laptops and tablets tomorrow, Google would take a massive ad revenue hit, because phone conversion rates generally are far lower than PC or tablet conversion rates, and the ads on these legacy products thus should be more valuable to Google.

Yes, Google is causing a lot of revenue and profit drag for both Apple and Microsoft, but it also is hurting its own interests, which makes this look like a less-than-intelligent strategy.

Wrapping Up

The reason behind the slowdown in tablets and PCs is a massive reduction in marketing for these two classes of products, a direct result of the price war Google started.

However, as Google cripples these other tech companies, that means they have less money to use for marketing — and Google’s revenue and profit comes from marketing. Therefore, while Google clearly is doing a lot of damage to the competition, it also is paying for that damage in lost ad revenue, and effectively shooting itself in the foot.

In the end, the decline in PC and tablet sales may be related to a decline in demand generation for those segments, which is tied directly to a massive reduction in pricing that came with Google’s entry into those markets.

Given that Google makes its money from ads, this may be one of the stupidest things it has ever done historically. Worse, supporting Google might turn out to be the dumbest thing the industry collectively has done.

Ironically — or prophetically, depending on how you look at this — only Steve Jobs seemed to get this early on, and he is no longer with us.

Something to noodle on this week.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

I’ve been following video conferencing ever since the late 1980s, when my organization within IBM participated with Apple in a joint study on the latest technology. The study concluded that folks wouldn’t use it.

Since then, I’ve watched company after company try to launch breakout products, with the most spectacular failures coming from Intel and HP. Over time, products in this category have gotten a ton cheaper.

I have one of Logitech’s older integrated systems in my home, mostly for doing remote video interviews (it works surprisingly well).

Logitech’s latest offering, the Group, emulates higher-end systems. It comes with HD capability, and is priced between US$999.99 and $1,250 depending on configuration.

What makes Logitech’s solutions stand out, other than value, is that they use common communications platforms like Skype, so they are really easy to use, and they are designed to be easy to set up and move.

Logitech Group Video Conferencing System

Logitech’s Group Video Conferencing System

This latest system consists of a conference control station with speakerphone, optional remote microphones, a remote control, a pan and zoom high-quality HD camera, and a central hub. Setup should take less than 15 minutes.

It is certified for Skype for Business, Lync, Cisco Jabber and WebEx. You do need to connect it to a PC, which will run the conferencing products native, and you’ll likely want to connect the PC to a big screen HD TV, so you can see the folks you are talking to.

In the end, if you want a low cost, high-performance system that rivals those costing thousands more, it is worth checking out Logitech’s Group — my product of the week.

Superhot Warps Time

superhot-indie-first-person-shooter

Three years of thought went into the think-between-steps shooter gameSuperhot, which was released Thursday.

Born of a week-long first-person-shooter game jam, Superhot’s concept caught the attention of the Kickstarter crowd, raising US$250,000.

The indie title is available on Windows, Linux and OS X. It will arrive on Xbox One next month.

Watch Your Steps

It’s a novel approach to the FPS genre, reminiscent of the movies Crank andSpeed. In Superhot, stopping doesn’t come with a consequence such as a bomb detonating on a speeding bus or a lethal dose of crank killing the protagonist. It’s quite the opposite.

When the player character stops moving, everything and everyone around the individual slows to a crawl, similar to Max Payne’s Bullet Time.

That gives the player the advantage of being able to weigh the most precarious of situations at any time.

Though shards of its core mechanic have been seen in other games, Superhothas found success in anchoring itself to the novel approach to the FPS, according to Matthew Diener, analyst for EEDAR.

Superhot is the sort of game that sounds so bizarre in concept that you wouldn’t think it would work, but once you see it in action, it makes you wonder why no one’s tried it before,”.

As for story, Superhot breaks the third wall to tell the tale of a player becoming sucked into the game itself. The player and player character find themselves being drawn deeper into the metaweb, and the gameplay gets more intense and difficult in turn.

All of that makes for an experience that’s rewarding and worthy of praise, said Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData Research.

Superhot provides a welcome change of pace in the first-person-shooter genre and acts more like a puzzler than an action game,” he told TechNewsWorld. “More broadly, its popularity is evidence of the strength of the indie scene as a source of innovative gameplay.”

The game’s core mechanic has existed for years in “rogue-like dungeon crawlers like the Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer series,” said van Dreunen, who first got his hands on the game about a year ago.

However, “Superhot presents it in a much more immediate and flashy manner — yet the fundamental stop-to-strategize gameplay mechanic is pretty much the same,” he said.

Little Room for Followers

Games that follow in its footsteps may find fewer people following them than the crowd Superhot has drawn, said Diener. The novelty could fade after players run into this mechanic three or four times.

“I doubt that we’ll see a Superhot version of Call of Duty anytime soon, but it reminds us that even well-establish genre categories are open to creative interpretation and that there is an appetite for games like it,” said van Dreunen. “It reminds me of the early version of Portal and, more recently,Rocket League.”

While others may not be able to run with the idea, the Superhot team might be able to get more miles out of the concept. It’s basically a virtual reality game that isn’t in VR, Diener said.

“It would be an easy game to translate to virtual reality based on its graphics, perspective and general design — but the stop-to-strategize mechanic would provide a welcome and clever way of preventing player fatigue and disorientation,” he said.

Here’s how the gaming press has scored Superhot, based on a compilation byMediacritic, with score converted to a scale of 1 to 10:

  • USgamer: 9
  • Videogamer: 9
  • Destructoid: 9
  • Polygon: 9
  • PC Gamer: 8.4
  • PC World: 8
  • GameSpot: 8
  • Giant Bomb: 8
  • IGN: 7.5
  • Twinfinite: 7

Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says Learnt From Germany About Defending Migrants

Facebook's Zuckerberg Says Learnt From Germany About Defending Migrants

Facebook has learnt from Germany to include migrants as a class of people that needed to be protected from “hate speech” online, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on the second day of a visit to Berlin on Friday.

A perceived slowness to remove anti-migrant postings by neo-Nazi sympathisers has increased antipathy to Facebook in Germany at a time of raised tensions and outbreaks of violence against record numbers of migrants arriving in the country.

Facebook already has the cultural obstacle of privacy to deal with in Germany, a country reunited after the Cold War only 25 years ago where memories of spying were reawakened by Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of prying by the state.

The world’s biggest social network rarely breaks down users by country but says it has about 21 million daily users in Germany or about a quarter of the population, fewer than the 24 million it had in less populous Britain more than two years ago.

“I just think there’s an incredibly rich history here, in this city and in this country that shapes the culture and really makes Germans in a lot of ways the leaders in the world when it comes to pushing for privacy,” Zuckerberg said.

“That’s one of the important things about coming here,” the 31-year-old entrepreneur told an audience of more than 1,000 young people, mostly students, who had been invited through their universities or signed up on Facebook to ask a question.

Zuckerberg, who spent his first day in Berlin jogging in the snow, meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, talking about technology and receiving an award, engaged on Friday with the issues that dog the company in Germany.

Journalists were not permitted to ask questions during the town hall meeting nor on any other part of Zuckerberg’s visit.

Asked why he was not doing more to remove “hate speech” from Facebook in Germany, Zuckerberg talked about an initiative with local partners to counter that and the 200 people the social network had hired in Germany to help police the site.

He said Facebook had not previously considered migrants as a class of people who needed protection, akin to racial minorities or other underrepresented groups that Facebook looks out for.

“Learning more about German culture and German law has led us to change our approach on that,” he said. “This is always a work in progress. I’m not going to claim up here today that we’re perfect, we’re definitely not.”

Nineteen-year-old Jonas Umland, an IT student who posed the question on “hate speech”, expressed a degree of satisfaction with Zuckerberg’s answer.

“I found it good that Mark said there was room for improvement. On the other hand, he didn’t mention any specific measures Facebook would take,” he told Reuters after the event.

“He came across very well, also at times spontaneous,” he said. “I found him very likeable.”

Lyf Flame 1, Lyf Wind 6 Dual-SIM 4G Smartphones Launched in India

Lyf Flame 1, Lyf Wind 6 Dual-SIM 4G Smartphones Launched in India

Reliance Digital earlier this month listed its entry-level Lyf-branded smartphone, the Flame 1, on its website. The company on Sunday officially launched the smartphone along with a new Lyf Wind 6 (seen above) smartphone as well. While the Lyf Flame 1 is priced at Rs. 6,490, the Lyf Wind 6 costs Rs. 7,090 at the Reliance Digital website. The handsets can be purchased from the company’s physical Reliance Digital outlets.

Similar to other Lyf-branded phones, the Lyf Flame 1 and Lyf Wind 6 support 4G LTE bands in India – FDD Band 3 (1800MHz) and TDD Band 40 (2300MHz).

The dual-SIM (Micro-SIM + Micro-SIM) supporting Lyf Flame 1 (seen below) smartphone features a 4.5-inch FWVGA (480×854 pixels) display with a pixel density of 218ppi and runs Android 5.1 Lollipop out-of-the-box. The handset is powered by a 1.1GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 (MSM8909) processor clubbed with 1GB of RAM and Adreno 304 GPU (at 400MHz). It packs 8GB of inbuilt storage and supports expandable storage via microSD card (up to 32GB).

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The Lyf Flame 1 sports a 5-megapixel autofocus rear camera with LED flash along with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. This can be considered the highlight of the handset at this price point. Some of the camera features on the Lyf Flame 1 include face detection, blink detection, and smile detection modes. Connectivity options include GPRS/ EDGE, 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Micro-USB.

Measuring 132.6×66.2×9.3mm, the Lyf Flame 1 weighs 138 grams. It packs a 2000mAh Li-Po battery rated to deliver up to 8 hours of talk time and up to 200 hours of standby time. It is available in White, Black, Dark Blue, and Dark Red colour variants.

The dual-SIM (Micro-SIM + Micro-SIM) Lyf Wind 6 sports a bigger 5-inch FWVGA (480×854 pixels) resolution IPS display and also runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. The processor, RAM, inbuilt storage, expandable storage limit, front and rear facing cameras stay the same as the Lyf Flame 1. Connectivity options include GPRS/ EDGE, 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Micro-USB. The handset measures 143.5x72x8.7mm and weighs 156 grams.

The Lyf Wind 6 is backed by a 2250mAh Li-Po battery, which is rated to deliver up to 6 hours of HD video playback and up to 32 hours of audio playback. Both the handsets feature VoLTE connectivity and VoWi-Fi as well. It is available in White, Black, and Gold colour variants.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Defends Resistance in FBI iPhone Case

Apple CEO Tim Cook Defends Resistance in FBI iPhone Case

Apple CEO Tim Cook got a standing ovation Friday at his first stockholder meeting since his company’s epic clash with the FBI unfolded. He defended the company’s unbending stance by saying: “These are the right things to do.”

On Thursday, the tech giant formally challenged a court order to help the FBI unlock an encrypted iPhone used by a murderous extremist in San Bernardino, California.

Federal officials have said they’re only asking for narrow assistance in bypassing some of the phone’s security features. But Apple contends the order would force it to write a software program that would make other iPhones vulnerable to hacking by authorities or criminals in the future.

Major tech companies are rallying to Apple’s cause, and now plan a joint “friend of the court” brief on its behalf. Facebook said it will join with Google, Twitter and Microsoft on a joint court filing. A Twitter spokeswoman confirmed that plan, but said that different companies and trade associations will likely file “multiple” briefs.

Apple filed court papers on Thursday that asked US Magistrate Sheri Pym to reverse her order on the grounds that the government had no legal authority to force the company to weaken the security of its own products. The company accused the government of seeking “dangerous power” through the courts and of trampling on its constitutional rights.

The dispute raises broad issues of legal and social policy, with at least one poll showing 51 percent of Americans think Apple should cooperate by helping the government unlock the iPhone.

The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies insist they need to get into the phone in order to run down every lead in the San Bernardino shootings, which were at least partly inspired by the Islamic State extremist group. But skeptics have questioned whether this particular device – a work phone issued by one shooter’s employer – is likely to contain much useful information. Both assailants took care to destroy their personal phones prior to the massacre.

Some police officials acknowledge similar doubts. “If they went out of their way to destroy the other phones, there’s a pretty good chance there may not be anything of value,” said Jarrod Burguan, San Bernardino’s police chief. “This may be a whole lot of saber rattling and back and forth for nothing.” Burguan, however, believes police still have “a duty and a responsibility” to make sure there’s no useful evidence on the phone.

It’s unclear how the controversy might affect Apple’s business. Analysts at Piper Jaffray said a survey they commissioned last week found the controversy wasn’t hurting the way most Americans think about Apple or its products.

At least one shareholder at Friday’s meeting voiced support for the company’s stance.

“Apple is 100 percent correct in not providing or doing research to create software to break into it,” said Tom Rapko, an Apple investor from Santa Barbara, California, as he waited in line to enter the auditorium at Apple’s headquarters. “I think if you give the government an inch, they’ll take a yard.”

Cook offered only brief remarks about the FBI case, and most questions from shareholders concerned other aspects of Apple’s business. But the CEO won praise during the meeting from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Internet rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“We applaud your leadership,” said Jackson, a longtime civil rights leader and former adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr. “I recall the FBI wiretapping Dr. King in the civil rights movement,” Jackson added. “We cannot go down this path again. Some of us do remember the days of (former FBI director J. Edgar) Hoover and McCarthy and Nixon and enemies lists.”

Apple’s share price has seen little change since the issue erupted in the news last week. Overall, though, the company’s stock has declined in recent months over worries that iPhone sales were slowing around the world.

A hearing on the iPhone legal dispute is scheduled for next month.