Posts with «author_name|igor bonifacic» label

The future of ‘Minecraft’ includes swamps, scary monsters and a Game Pass bundle

On Saturday, Mojang held its annual Minecraft Live fan convention. As in years past, the event saw the studio detail the future of its immensely popular sandbox game. And if you're a fan of Minecraft, the livestream did not disappoint.   

The studio kicked off the event with the announcement of The Wild Update. Set to come out sometime in 2022, Mojang promises this latest DLC will change how players explore and interact with the game’s overworld. The update will introduce an entirely new swamp biome that includes mangroves players can pick fruit from and replant to nurture new plants.

The Deep Dark, which was previously planned for 2021, will now launch instead in 2022 alongside The Wild Update. First announced at Minecraft Live 2020, the DLC adds the Warden, a new enemy character that is one of the game’s scariest yet. Players who brave the DLC will find special new items only available in the deep dark.

In the meantime, fans can look forward to part two of the Caves and Cliffs update coming out later this year. In the first half of 2021, Mojang made the decision to split the update into two parts due to the complexity of the included features. At Minecraft Live, the studio said that was the right decision, in part because it allowed the team to take into consideration community feedback. As previously announced, the update will include expanded caves and biomes. It will also increase the height and depth limit of worlds.

Mojang hasn’t forgotten about Minecraft Dungeons. In December, the studio will introduce a new feature called Seasonal Adventures. Each week, you and your friends will have to chance to take on weekly challenges. As you complete them, you’ll earn progress towards a seasonal progression track that unlocks rewards like new skins, pets and emotes. Season One, The Cloudy Climb, will add a new Tower feature and adventure hub for players to explore.

Now is also the perfect time to either try Minecraft for the first time or return to the game after an extended break. On November 2nd, Microsoft will release a Minecraft bundle for Xbox Game Pass on PC. The pack includes both the Bedrock and Java editions of the game, with support for a single MSA log-in across both.

The updates come at a time when Minecraft has never been more popular. Just this past August, Mojang said more than 140 million players logged in to play the game, representing a new milestone for the title. Minecraft Live then was about positioning the game for a future where it continues to grow.

Judge bars county clerk after voting machine passwords leaked to QAnon

In August, QAnon conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins shared a video he claimed showed ballot machines from Dominion Voting Systems could be remotely accessed to tamper with the results of a vote. At the time, he said the information came to him from a “whistleblower.”

This week, a Colorado judge barred Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from overseeing the county’s upcoming November election in relation to a leak of voting machine BIOS passwords. Peters, who tweeted in support of former President Donald Trump’s election conspiracy theories, invited a man named Gerald Wood to a meeting involving a “trusted build” software update that was meant to ensure the security of the county’s voting machines. Peters claimed Wood was an “administrative assistant” transitioning to her office, but then later described him as a “consultant” she hired to copy information from the computers.

Ahead of the meeting, Belinda Knisley, Peters’ deputy, sent an email to staff asking that they turn off the security cameras in the Election Department and not turn them back on until after August 1st. Knisley didn’t explain the reason for her request, but it was carried out either way. On the day of the meeting, Wood photographed a spreadsheet that contained the passwords to the machines and copied over their hard drives. Following the meeting, the passwords were publicly posted to an “online social media site.”

“Peters directed the creation of the images of the hard drive, which was not authorized by law and which directly led to the decommissioning of Mesa County’s voting systems, facilitating the leak of sensitive data and exposed the county’s voting system to compromise,” Judge Valerie Robinson wrote in a decision spotted by Ars Technica.

In a statement, Peters said she plans to appeal the “decision to remove a duly elected clerk and recorded from her election duties.” She went on to described herself as a whistleblower and called the case against her a “power grab” by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

“Clerk Peters seriously compromised the security of Mesa County’s voting system,” Griswold said in a statement. “The Court’s decision today bars Peters from further threatening the integrity of Mesa’s elections and ensures Mesa County residents have the secure and accessible election they deserve.” The FBI and Mesa County district attorney are investigating Peters, but no criminal charges have been filed yet.

Smartphone shipments fell due to ongoing component shortages

From NVIDIA and AMD to automakers like GM, the global chip shortage has affected nearly every industry that depends on computer components, and now it’s even hurting smartphone manufacturers. According to Canalys, phone shipments dropped by six percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2021. The firm says much of that is due to component shortages that made it impossible for those companies to meet consumer demand.

According to a preliminary estimate, Samsung shipped the most devices in Q3 2021, claiming a 23 percent share of the market. For the South Korean company, the good news is that it’s no worse off now than it was a year ago. Reclaiming the second spot, Apple managed to increase its share of the market by 3 percentage points year-over-year.

🌐📱Q321 smartphones down 6%

👉 Vendors struggled to meet demand for devices amid component shortages.
👉 #Samsung - 23% share.
👉 #Apple - 15% share
👉 #Xiaomi - 14% share
👉 #vivo and #OPPO took 10% each

— Canalys (@Canalys) October 15, 2021

Rounding out the top five are a trio of Chinese manufacturers: Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo. Together, they claimed a 34 percent slice of the market. One thing to note about the way Canalys does things is that it includes OnePlus shipments under Oppo, but doesn’t group Oppo with sister company Vivo. All three are owned by Chinese conglomerate BBK Electronics. When you think about things that way, it’s usually only second to Samsung as the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Still, Apple’s performance is impressive when you consider its Q3 numbers only include about one week of iPhone 13 sales. Canalys didn’t speak to the company’s numbers specifically, but it’s likely the strength of Apple’s supply chain helped it thrive in a challenging market. The company is one of TSMC’s most important customers, commanding a sizeable portion of its chip output.

“The chipset famine has truly arrived,” said Canalys Principal Analyst Ben Stanton. “The smartphone industry is striving to maximize production of devices as best it can.” The problem is that the supply shortage is expected to continue well into 2022.

MIT researchers create fabric that can sense and react to its wearer's movement

Textile production may be one of the oldest technologies known to humans, but it hasn't proven easy to adapt the advances of the information age to our garments. Sure, we've seen efforts like Google's Project Jacquard try to bring clothes into the modern era, but those haven't been particularly successful.

Not that that's stopping a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Sweden. They've created a smart fiber that can sense and respond to the movement of its wearer. Dubbed OmniFiber, the soft robotic fabric features a hollow center channel that allows a fluidic medium to travel through it. With the help of compressed air, the fibers can bend, stretch, curl and pulse on demand. That's something that allows them to provide tactile feedback in real-time, making them akin to an artificial muscle.

Artificial muscle fibers aren't a new idea; other research teams at MIT have approached the technology in their own way. However, what makes OmniFiber notable is that it doesn't need heat to change its shape. Immediately that makes it more practical since overheating the skin is not an issue. It has other advantages too. It's possible to make the fabric with relatively inexpensive materials, and the fibers don't require a delicate weaving process.

The team envisions their fabric making its way into garments that could help teach athletes and singers how to control their breathing better. Another even more exciting application could see an OmniFiber garment help someone recover their natural breathing pattern after a respiratory disease like COVID-19.

It may be some time before we see OmniFiber make its way into the real world, but that's not to suggest the project is done. Ozgun Kilic Afsar, one of the researchers who worked on the fabric, told MIT News she plans to continue working on the system. Among the things she wants to do is develop a manufacturing system that allows the creation of even longer filaments.

Weight loss app Noom gets into mental health coaching

Since 2011, Noom has made a name for itself as a weight loss app. This week, with the introduction of a new feature called Noom Mood, it’s expanding into mental wellness. If you’ve already tried the aforementioned weight loss program, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from Noom Mood.

As you embark on the four-month program, each day the app will provide you with articles and activities centered on teaching you skills you can use to manage and regulate the stress and emotions in your life. Along the way, you’ll be asked to log your mood, and if you ever need additional help, the program includes access to a personal coach.

It’s not surprising to see Noom expand beyond weight loss. It always had a mindfulness streak, and it must be said there’s a lot of money to be made in the health and wellness space. Over the course of the pandemic, a company like Headspace went from a relatively obscure startup to one that now has a $3 billion valuation and partnerships with companies like Netflix and Waze.

Virgin Galactic delays the start of its paid spaceflights to the end of 2022

Virgin Galactic has suffered yet another setback. On Thursday, the company told CNBC it has delayed the start of its commercial space tourism service to the fourth quarter of 2022. It had previously hoped to begin offering paid spaceflights sometime in the third quarter of next year.

With the delay, the company will begin refurbishing both its carrier airplane and spacecraft this month. Virgin Galactic says it expects the entire process should take between eight to 10 months. As a result of the move, Unity 23, the company’s next flight, won’t take off until mid-2022 at the earliest.

“The re-sequencing of our enhancement period and the Unity 23 flight underscores our safety-first procedures, provides the most efficient path to commercial service, and is the right approach for our business and our customers,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement.

The delay is not connected to the recent investigation the FAA conducted into Unity 22, the flight that took Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson to the edge of space. The federal agency cleared the company for future flights after completing the investigation. 

YouTube's misinformation policies led to fewer misleading videos on Facebook and Twitter

New research has found that policies put in place by YouTube to curb election misinformation had a significant impact on the number of false and misleading videos on Facebook and Twitter. The findings come from a report a team of researchers from theCenter for Social Media and Politics at New York University shared withThe New York Times. In the immediate aftermath of the US election on November 3rd, the researchers recorded a dramatic increase in the number of YouTube election fraud videos shared on Twitter. That month, those clips represented approximately one-third of all election-related videos shared on the platform.

After December 8th, the day YouTube said it would remove videos that claimed widespread errors and fraud changed the outcome of the contest, there was a dramatic drop in misleading election claims on Twitter. In that time period, the ratio of election fraud videos shared on Twitter from YouTube dropped to below 20 percent. That ratio fell again following the US Capitol riot when YouTube said it would hand out strikes to any channel spreading misinformation about the results of the election. By the time President Biden swore the Oath of Office on January 20th, only around five percent of all election fraud videos on Twitter were coming from YouTube.

The researchers saw that same trend play out on Facebook. Before YouTube’s December 8th policy decision, about 18 percent of all videos shared on the platform were related to election fraud theories. By Inauguration Day, that number fell to four percent. To compile their findings, the team at New York University collected a random sampling of 10 percent of all tweets each day and then isolated the ones that linked out to YouTube videos. They did the same on Facebook using the company’s CrowdTangle tool.

If nothing else, the findings highlight the outsized role YouTube plays in how information is shared in our current moment. As the most ubiquitous video platform on the internet, the company has an enormous amount of power to shape political discourse. Its policies can do both great harm and good. “It’s a huge part of the information ecosystem,” Megan Brown, a researcher at the Center for Social Media and Politics told The Times. “When YouTube’s platform becomes healthier, others do as well.”

Chrome OS adds more natural voices for 'Select-to-speak' accessibility feature

Dyslexia affects as much as 20 percent of the population and is one of the most common learning disabilities. It’s for that reason accessibility features like the "Select-to-speak" tool in Chrome OS are vitally important. If you’re not familiar, it allows you to select a section of text and have it read out loud by the operating system. Following an update earlier in the year that added playback controls, Google is now introducing more human-sounding voices. With today’s update, the feature is available in 25 languages and various accents, with more to come.

Google worked with both people who live with dyslexia and educators to develop the new voices. The company says it should help with reading comprehension, particularly in classroom settings. You can enable Select-to-speak through your Chromebook’s settings menu. Once the feature is turned on, highlight a section of text and press either the Everything Button or the Launcher Key and S for Chrome OS to dictate your selection.

Tinder thinks you should bring a stranger as a date to your next wedding

Tinder wants to help you find a date for the next wedding you plan to attend. The dating app now includes a “Plus One” feature that allows you to indicate whether you’re looking for a wedding date or open to be that person for someone else. You’ll find the experience inside the Explore tab. That’s the same section of the app where you can pay for a Lyft ride for your date.

In a way, the introduction of Plus One is a response to something Tinder users already come to the app to find. Since the start of 2021, the company says profile mentions of “plus one” have increased by 45 percent. Still, it must be said it takes a certain amount of audacity to show up at a wedding with a total stranger — just imagine the drama that could unfold. And not every host may be cool with the idea. Use at your own risk.

WhatsApp begins rolling out end-to-end encryption for chat backups

The wait is over. It’s now possible to encrypt your WhatsApp chat history on both Android and iOS, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Thursday. The company plans to roll out the feature slowly to ensure it can deliver a consistent and reliable experience to all users.

However, once you can access the feature, it will allow you to secure your backups before they hit iCloud or Google Drive. At that point, neither WhatsApp nor your cloud service provider will be able to access the files. It’s also worth mentioning you won’t be able to recover your backups if you ever lose the 64-digit encryption key that secures your chat logs. That said, it’s also possible to secure your backups behind a password, in which case you can recover that if you ever lose it.

While WhatsApp has allowed users to securely message each other since 2016, it only started testing encrypted backups earlier this year. With today’s announcement, the company said it has taken the final step toward providing a full end-to-end encrypted messaging experience. 

It’s worth pointing out that end-to-end encryption doesn’t guarantee your privacy will be fully protected. According to a report The Information published in August, Facebook was looking into an AI that could analyze encrypted data without having to decrypt it so that it could serve ads based on that information. The head of WhatsApp denied the report, but it’s a reminder that there’s more to privacy than merely the existence of end-to-end encryption.