Dave Knott writes: Amazon has both announced and released a new, free game engine, Lumberyard, which offers deep integration with its Amazon Web Services server infrastructure to empower online play, and also with Twitch, its video game-focused streaming service. Lumberyard is powerful and full-featured enough to develop triple-A current-gen console games, with mobile support is coming down the road. Its core engine technology is based on Crytek's CryEngine. However, Lumberyard represents a branch of that tech, and the company is replacing or upgrading many of CryEngine's systems. Monetization for Lumberyard will come strictly through the use of Amazon Web Services' cloud computing. If you use the engine for your game, you're permitted to roll your own server tech, but if you're using a third-party provider, it has to be Amazon. Integration of Amazon's Twitch video streaming tools at a low level also helps to cement that platform's dominance in the game streaming space. Alongside Lumberyard, the company has also announced and released GameLift, a new managed service for deploying, operating, and scaling server-based online games using AWS. GameLift will be available only to developers who use Lumberyard, though it's an optional add-on. The game engine is in beta, but is freely usable and downloadable today.
Dave Knott writes: The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) has discovered a new largest known prime number, 2^74,207,281-1, having 22,338,618 digits. The same GIMPS software just uncovered a flaw in Intel's latest Skylake CPUs, and its global network of CPUs peaking at 450 trillion calculations per second remains the longest continuously-running "grassroots supercomputing" project in Internet history. It is almost 5 million digits larger than the previous record prime number, in a special class of extremely rare prime numbers known as Mersenne primes. It is only the 49th known Mersenne prime ever discovered, each increasingly difficult to find.
Dave Knott writes: XKCD creator Randall Munroe has decided to celebrate the release of his new book, Thing Explainer, by creating a "small game" called Hoverboard. In actuality, it is a gigantic scrolling comic in the same style as his previous Click And Drag. However, this time there is a game element as one navigates the comic. Explore giant starships and volcanoes, or search for hidden lairs, all in the name of finding as many hidden gold coins as possible.
Dave Knott writes: A Tunisian democracy group won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its contributions to the first and most successful Arab Spring movement. The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet "for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy" in the North African country following its 2011 revolution. Tunisian protesters sparked uprisings across the Arab world in 2011 that overthrew dictators and upset the status quo. Tunisia is the only country in the region to painstakingly build a democracy, involving a range of political and social forces in dialogue to create a constitution, legislature and democratic institutions. The National Dialogue Quartet is made up of four key organizations in Tunisian civil society: the Tunisian General Labour Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
Dave Knott writes: The 2015 Nobel Prize in physics has been won by Takaaki Kajita (of the University of Tokyo in Japan) and Arthur McDonald (of Queens University in Canada), for discovering how neutrinos switch between different "flavours".
In the late 1990s, physicists were faced with a mystery: all their Earth-based detectors were picking out far fewer neutrinos than theoretical models predicted — based on how many should be produced by distant nuclear reactions, from our own Sun to far-flung supernovas. In 1998, Prof Kajita's team reported that neutrinos they had caught, bouncing out of collisions in the Earth's atmosphere, had switched identity: they were a different "flavour" from what those collisions must have released. Then in 2001, the group led by Prof McDonald announced that the neutrinos they were detecting in Ontario, which started out in the Sun, had also "flipped" from their expected identity. This discovery of the particle's wobbly identity had crucial implications. It explained why neutrino detections had not matched the predicted quantities — and it meant that the baffling particles must have a mass. This contradicted the Standard Model of particle physics and changed calculations about the nature of the Universe, including its eternal expansion.
Dave Knott writes: One of the new features introduced in iOS9 is "Wi-Fi Assist". This enable your phone to automatically switch from wi-fi to a cellular connection when the wi-fi signal is poor. That's helpful if you're in the middle of watching a video or some other task on the internet that you don't want interrupted by spotty wi-fi service. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi Assist is enabled on by default, which means that users may exceed their data cap without knowing it because their phone is silently switching their data connection from wi-fi to cellular.
Dave Knott writes: Following the recent hacks on the infidelity website Ashley Madison, Noel Biderman has stepped down as CEO of both AshleyMadison.com and its parent company. Avid Life Media Inc., the company that owns the site and many others, announced Biderman's move in a short press release on Friday: "Noel Biderman, in mutual agreement with the company, is stepping down as chief executive officer of Avid Life Media Inc. (ALM) and is no longer with the company. Until the appointment of a new CEO, the company will be led by the existing senior management team." Before the data hack, the company was planning an IPO in London that would have taken in as much as $200 million US from investors. According to regulatory filings, the company had $115 million in revenue last year, more than four times the amount it obtained in 2009.
Meanwhile, in related news, Brian Krebs (the reporter who first uncovered the hack) says that he has uncovered clues to the possible identity of the hacker.
Krebs says that he noticed that the Twitter account operated by a known hacker recently posted a link to Ashley Madison's stolen proprietary source code before it was made public. Intrigued by the poster's apparent access, he examined the account's posting history and noticed a predilection for the music of Australian hard rock band AC/DC. This jibes with the behaviour of the hacker(s), who had displayed threatening messages on the computers of Ashley Madison employees, accompanied by AC/DC song Thunderstruck. In a series of tweets, the owner of the account, one Thadeus Zu, appears to deny that he was behind the hack, and indeed makes several suggestions that the account itself isn't even run by one person, but is instead an amalgam of like-minded digital vigilantes.
Dave Knott writes: Space burials are longer the stuff of science fiction (and wealthy science fiction TV show creators.) The cremated remains of more than 450 people have been shot into orbit. Yet, despite the promise of space being a unique "resting place," almost every tiny vial of remains ever sent there has come back down to Earth or burned up upon re-entry. This wouldn't have happened had the ashes landed on Earth's moon — a fact that hasn't been lost on the companies pioneering this futuristic funeral technology. The San Francisco-based company Elysium Space officially launched its 'lunar memorial' service earlier this month, and will soon be sending the remains of a U.S. Army Infantry Soldier's mother upwards as part of its first ever moon burial.
The company's website further explains how the lunar burials will work:
"You receive a kit containing a custom ash capsule to collect a cremated remains sample. After we receive the ash capsule back from you, we place your capsule in the Elysium memorial spacecraft. The latter is eventually integrated to the Astrobotic lander during the designated integration event. From here, the lander is integrated onto the launch vehicle. On launch day, the remains are carried to the moon where the lander will be deployed to its dedicated location, preserving our memorial spacecraft for eternity."
Because Elysium can only send a small portion of cremated remains to the moon (less than a gram), participants aren't actually paying to have their loved ones literally buried on the moon. However, this has not deterred the company from launching the service, charging $11,950 per "burial".
Dave Knott writes: CNN and Canada's CBC are being sued after the pair allegedly ripped a 31 second video from YouTube and used it in their broadcasts without a license. On November 18 2014, New York resident Alfonzo Cutaia decided to record event surrounding winter torm "Knife" on his mobile phone. Recognizing the potential for interest in his video, Cutaia uploaded his 32 second clip to YouTube, and opted to generate revenue via YouTube’s account monetization program. His video soon generated over 2.3 million hits and he was receiving requests from news outlets – CBS, ABC, CNN, NBC, Reuters and AP – to use his footage. But according to a lawsuit filed this week by Cutaia in a New York court, around November 18 Canada’s CBC aired the video online without permission, with a CBC logo as an overlay. After complaining to the CBC about continued unauthorized use, last month Cutaia was told by the CBC that the company had obtained the video from CNN on a 10-day license. However, Cutaia claims that the video was used by the CBC and its partners for many months, having been supplied to them by CNN who also did not have a license. In his complaint, Cutaia accuses the news outlets of “intentional and willful” copyright infringement and seeks appropriate damages. Interestingly, the lawsuit also claims that both the CBC and CNN violated the DMCA when the companies ‘liberated’ it from the YouTube system and offered it for viewing elsewhere.
Dave Knott writes: Pembroke, Ont.-based Thoth Technology has patented an inflatable tower that could carry a "space elevator" higher than passenger jets fly – and eventually into low-Earth orbit. Their plans describe a tower with a space launch platform on top that could theoretically be built to more than 200 kilometres high, and reach into low Earth orbit. It would be made of stacked rings of Kevlar cells inflated with hydrogen or helium to an extremely high pressure. An elevator could ride up the tower, carrying spacecraft, satellites and other goods to be launched into space – along with tourists looking for an extraordinary view.
The traditional space elevator concept consists of a fine cable with one end attached to weight in space, orbiting the Earth, and the other end tethered to the ground. However, Thoth Technology thinks there are two challenges with that idea: (1) It needs to be built in space. (2) The cable would be degraded by meteor and lightning strikes, and have to be replaced every six months. Thoth claims their inflatable elevator tower could be built from the ground up, and easily withstand not just lightning and meteors, but even category five hurricanes, stating that the design includes gyroscopes to control the tower's movement and actively stabilize it during major storms
The company hopes to build a 1.5-kilometre-high prototype within five years – a height that would make it significantly higher than the current world's tallest building, the 830-metre-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai. They further expect that a tower elevator reaching 20 kilometres above sea level, starting from the top of a five-kilometre-high mountain, could be built with 10 years at a cost of about $5 billion US.
Dave Knott writes: The future of free-wheeling automated yard work took a step closer to American consumers on Wednesday after U.S. regulators gave robot maker iRobot Corp Inc technical clearance to make and sell a robotic lawn mower. The company, known for its robot vacuum cleaner Roomba, has designed a robot lawn mower that would wirelessly connect with stakes in the ground operating as signal beacons, rising above the ground by as much as 61 centimetres. The Federal Communications Commission usually prohibits the operation of "fixed outdoor infrastructure" transmitting low-power radio signal without a licence. iRobot's lawn mower beacons fall in that category, and the stake design required a waiver from the FCC, which was opposed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stating that the lawn mowers would interfere with its telescopes.
Dave Knott writes: It sounds like science fiction, but revealing the face of a criminal based on their genes may be closer than we think. In a process known as molecular photo fitting, scientists are experimenting with using genetic markers from DNA to build up a picture of an offender's face. Dr Peter Claes, a medical imaging specialist at the University of Leuven has amassed a database of faces and corresponding DNA. Armed with this information, he is able to model how a face is constructed based on just 20 genes (this number will soon be expanded to 200). At the moment, police couldn't publish a molecular photo-fit like this and hope to catch a killer. But that's not how Dr Claes sees the technique being used in a criminal investigation. "If I were to bring this result to an investigator, I wouldn't necessarily give him the image to broadcast. I would talk to him and say okay, you're looking for a woman, with a very specific chin and eyebrow structure."
Dave Knott writes: Next week, a 24-year-old man who knew Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev is scheduled to appear in U.S. federal court for sentencing on obstruction of justice charges related to the attacks. Khairullozhon Matanov, a former taxi driver, did not participate in or have any prior knowledge of the bombings according to U.S. authorities. What could land him 20 more years in prison — where he's been since his arrest last May — are the charges that he deleted video files from his computer and cleared his browser history in the days following the attacks. Matanov's is the latest, and perhaps most high-profile, non-corporate court case to spark conversation around a U.S. law known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Enacted by Congress under President George W. Bush in 2002 following the Enron scandal, the law essentially makes knowingly destroying or concealing any record that could be part of a federal investigation punishable by up to 20 years behind bars.
The law was, in part, intended to prohibit corporations under federal investigation from shredding incriminating documents. But since Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in 2002 federal prosecutors have applied the law to a wider range of activities. A police officer in Colorado who falsified a report to cover up a brutality case was convicted under the act, as was a woman in Illinois who destroyed her boyfriend's child pornography.
Dave Knott writes: The winners of the 2014 Nebula awards (presented 2015) have been announced. The awards are voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and (along with the Hugos) are considered to be one of the two most prestigious awards in science fiction.
This year's winners are: