Latest Computer and IT Support Industry News
Steam will release a new beta feature within its service called Steam Trading Cards according to an announcement from the company. The trading cards integrate with a handful of Valve titles at launch, and players that collect the cards will be able to use them to earn coupons as well as profile backgrounds and other items to augment their Steam experience.
The launch titles that will generate trading cards to collect include Don't Starve, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2 and Half-Life 2. When players get a particular set of cards they can craft them into a game badge to get “marketable items” like emoticons, profile backgrounds, and coupons for things like game discounts or DLC. The badges can then be upgraded, or “leveled up,” by collecting the same set again.
The info page states that half of any card set is dropped during game play while the other half is “earned through collecting prowess.” Badges contribute to a player’s “Steam Level,” and as that number rises players get account-bound items including extra friend list slots.
Last week, Microsoft released a YouTube client for Windows Phone that gave users of Redmond's smartphone platform a rich, capable YouTube experience that didn't depend on using the YouTube Mobile site.
Though the app included account support, playlists, commenting, and most other aspects of YouTube, there's one thing it was missing—advertising. It also had two features it shouldn't have had—the ability to download videos and the ability to play videos that the creators have blocked from mobile devices.
As a result, Google sent Microsoft a cease-and-desist demand ordering the company to stop distributing the application by May 22nd.
Very few experiments have changed the way we perceive our Universe, but the Kepler exoplanet survey telescope is one such example. Simply by monitoring a single patch of the sky continuously, it provided a new understanding of how many planets exist in the galaxy. Since its launch in 2009, Kepler identified 115 exoplanets with over 2,700 other potential planet candidates—including a number that are comparable in size to Earth or orbiting within the habitable zone where liquid water might exist.
However, Kepler is an orbiting telescope, unreachable by spacecraft for repairs. Today, NASA announced that a reaction wheel—required to keep the telescope pointed steadily in one direction—ceased functioning. This is the second reaction wheel failure, meaning Kepler can't continue to monitor the same stars and their exoplanets it has watched since 2009.
The Kepler engineering team had been anticipating this problem for some months, so this news was not unexpected. NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld mentioned hope that engineers could restore communication with the control system managing the reaction wheel, but the fact that this state of failure has persisted for some days indicates how faint the hope is.
Over the weekend, Nature released a paper that describes the genome of a fascinating creature with a rather unglamorous name: the bladderwort. These plants live in swampy or liquid environments and find it hard to get sufficient nutrients there, so the plants have turned carnivorous in order to survive. The bladders that give the group of related species its name are actually feeding organs. When an organism brushes up against their triggers, the bladders swell by sucking in the surrounding water, along with any organisms it carries. They then seal off, allowing the plant to digest its prey.
The oddities continue at the molecular level. The genome of this bladderwort, Utricularia gibba, contains more genes than are found in the human genome (something common in plants), but it carries them all in a compact genome that's only a bit over 2 percent of the size of the human version. It does this largely by getting rid of just about everything that could possibly be considered superfluous—which may tell us important things about whether most of the DNA we carry really is superfluous.
First, the details, then some perspective.
Tonight Intel gave its (high-end) processor graphics a new name: Iris. Along with the new brand disclosure, Intel did let a few details slip about Haswell TDPs.
High-end desktop parts creep up to 84W (Core i7-4770K). All socketed desktop Haswell CPUs will either use Intel HD Graphics (GT1) or Intel HD Graphics 4xxxx (GT2). There's a new category of BGA-only (non-socketed) desktop CPU with an R-suffix that will ship with Intel Iris Pro graphics 5200 (GT3e). These R-series SKUs will top out at 65W, implying lower max CPU frequencies than the K-series SKUs but obviously delivering better graphics performance.
Quad-core notebook parts climb up from 45W to 47W, and these are the only parts that have the chance of getting Iris Pro graphics. Based on what we know thus far, an H-suffix seems to imply Iris Pro (Core i7-4950HQ) while an M-suffix is plain old Iris (Core i7-4900MQ). With an increase in TDP, it's entirely possible that we won't see any battery life improvement from quad-core mobile Ivy Bridge to Haswell unless you start including power savings from potentially getting rid of a discrete GPU.
Finally, the more interesting TDPs we have are down in Ultrabooks - these are parts that we've been calling Haswell ULT. Currently, Ultrabooks use 17W Ivy Bridge parts but those TDPs drop slightly with Haswell ULT down to 15W. There's no room for Iris down in the 15W range (power constraints, Intel doesn't want to regress on CPU performance), however Intel will be introducing 28W Haswell ULT parts to enable 14/15" and larger Ultrabooks with Iris graphics. The inclusion of a 28W Ultrabook part is very interesting as it clearly goes after notebooks like the ASUS UX32VD that attempted to pair a low end discrete GPU with low-power Intel silicon. Intel definitely has its eyes set on eating more of the BoM in the PC market, at the expense of the discrete GPU vendors of course. It will be very interesting to see how things play out over this next generation with low-end to mid-range discrete GPU attach rates.
The icy giant worlds Uranus and Neptune are the least studied planets in the Solar System. Of all the space probes only Voyager 2 visited them, and their great distance from the Sun (and therefore Earth) makes them difficult to study with ground-based telescopes. As a result many aspects of the planets are mysterious, including the strong winds in their atmospheres.
A new study of data from Voyager 2 and the Hubble Space Telescope may have demonstrated that the weather on Uranus and Neptune is confined to a relatively thin layer of atmosphere. Yohai Kaspi and colleagues analyzed variations in the planets' gravitational fields, which are affected in a small way by atmospheric fluctuations. They compared various models of both the atmosphere and interior and determined the region containing the strong winds comprised a very tiny fraction of the planets' mass: 0.2 percent or less. However, they stressed that the ultimate cause of the winds probably lies in the planets' warm interiors, especially on Neptune.
As with Jupiter and Saturn the atmospheres on Uranus and Neptune separate into zones, wide bands where the prevailing winds blow in the same direction. On all four worlds the zones alternate directions with the winds blowing the same direction as the planets' rotation in one zone and in the opposite direction in the neighboring zone. Neptune's measured wind velocities can top -300 meters/second (-670 mph, where the negative indicates a direction opposite to the planet's rotation) in the equatorial zone while Uranus achieves the still-impressive but more sedate 200 m/s at tropical latitudes.
Google today announced a new version of its mobile Maps application and talked about the new things it's doing to fill out Google Maps. At the Google I/O conference Wednesday, Google outlined several improvements to both the desktop and mobile versions of its Maps app and a new user-contribution feature called Map Maker. Map Maker will allow users to add their own data, which Google may then incorporate.
The new version of Google Maps will allow users to zoom in on maps and see 3D renderings of buildings while searching for locations. Users will now be able to see whether their friends have rated places using a new five-point rating scale that will be introduced across all Google Maps incarnations. The partnership with Zagat ratings and reviews will persist into the new version alongside the new five-point ratings.
Google Offers will now be integrated within Maps, offering users discounts from within the app, but at launch it will only be integrated with partner brands. The new Maps will also use live coverage of "incidents from around the world" that will allow users to see news updates in context in real time. Dynamic rerouting in traffic view will help users avoid traffic snafus.
During its Keynote today, Google announced new features coming to its flagship search function—you know, that thing we all started using Google for. VP Amit Singhal spent some time discussing what Google's search functionality will eventually morph into.
Google's strategy is summarized by three words: answer, converse, and anticipate. Singhal explained that many of the pieces of these upcoming changes can already be seen in products that Google has recently introduced—namely, Google Knowledge Graph and Google Now, with perhaps a splash of Google Glass, too.Answer: Knowledge Graph
Last year, Google launched Knowledge Graph. The intent was to let Google move beyond simply locating keywords to begin understanding real-world entities (people, places, and things) and the relationship between them. Two example questions Singhal cited as questions Knowledge Graph was designed to answer are "What are the movies by J.J. Abrams?" and "What's the release date of Star Trek: Into Darkness?" Google has over 570 million connected entities in its Knowledge Graph right now.
Today Google removed the mystery surrounding “Babel,” the possibly ironically codenamed software and cloud service that integrates many of the chat and communications applications spread across Google’s various app and service families. BabeI, now officially branded as part of Hangouts, integrates the Hangout video chat service of Google+ and Messenger text-based chat with Google’s “legacy” Google Talk chat tool and the Gmail inbox.
Until now, the Google+ communications tools have stood alone from Google Talk, creating a schism between new adopters and those using Google's older platform. Messenger, the chat tool of the Google+ mobile app, has had no connection to the much larger universe of Google Talk users. And Google has lagged behind other messaging tools, such as Apple's iMessage platform, in its integration of photo sharing in chat.
Hangouts will now allow users to archive chats as they have been able to do with Google Talk. Google described the conversations as "long-lasting" and compared them to being in the same room with your conversation partners. Hangouts includes photo sharing and a new extended collection of emoticons and other graphic message elements, elements that will be archived alongside text.