Xiaomi Mi Mix 3’s slider is almost-perfect

Xiaomi Mi Mix 3’s slider is almost-perfect

I’ve yet to find the perfect phone , but Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 comes closer than any phone I’ve used in years.

The Mi Mix 3 is a full-screen display phone without a notch, and relies on hiding its front camera under the display that’s revealed when you slide it down –via a unique slider mechanism powered by magnets– with a satisfying click as it locks into place.

Using the sliding feature is almost an addictive experience, and I kind of can’t stop doing it. The screen even lights up and a buzz-like chime plays every time you slide it open, like a little mini reward. If you’re worried that you’ll break it, Xiaomi says the slider is rated for 300,000 cycles (opening and closing it counts as one cycle), and on average, I found myself sliding less than 50 times a day.

xiaomimimix3-4

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The front cameras uses a 24-megapixel and 2-megapixel setup.


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Beyond the slider, the Mi Mix 3 is a fantastic device that packs the current best in hardware, such as Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon 845 chip (though the Snapdragon 855 is due to arrive soon), a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED Full-HD+ display, dual 12-megapixel rear cameras with 2x optical zoom and wireless charging. Best yet, it even comes with a wireless charging pad in the box.

As for price, the cheapest Mi Mix 3, with 6GB RAM and 128GB onboard storage, sells for around $490, £375 and AU$680 converted from its 3,299 Chinese yuan price. The version with 10GB RAM and 256GB of onboard storage costs 4,999 Chinese yuan, or about $845.

While the cheapest version is a steal, the highest end model is still cheaper than the cheapest iPhone XS Max, by about $250. The only problem though, is where to get one. You can buy the Mi Mix 3 in most parts of Asia, as well Spain and Italy, but since Xiaomi currently doesn’t sell phones in the US there aren’t any official options for US phone enthusiasts. 

Almost perfect

I told you earlier that the Mi Mix 3 is almost perfect, and I wasn’t kidding. Sure, it’s missing a few things, such as waterproofing — which I’m guessing is almost impossible with the sliding mechanism — and secure 3D face unlocking, but I can live without these. Here’s why:

The Mix 3 looks amazing

The shiny signature ceramic rear shimmers in the light, and while the backing is acclaimed for resisting fingerprint grease, you’ll still see plenty. The darker color of the phone does hide the ugly marks somewhat. The phone is comfortable to hold, and while it’s slightly heavier than the iPhone XS Max on paper, I didn’t really notice it.

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The rear is made of ceramic and is supposedly fingerprint and scratch resistant (but you’ll still see prints, in case you’re wondering).


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The 6.4-inch display is bright, and colors pop out, even outdoors in sunlight. The Mix 3 also supports wireless charging, which is nice to have, and as mentioned earlier, you don’t have to buy a charging pad since it comes in the box.

The MIUI 10 software ties it all together

You get an Android experience that feels somewhat like iOS, but it’s definitely Android. By default, the Mix 3 uses onscreen buttons, but you can switch it to a gesture based control that’s similar to iOS — swipe up to exit an app, swipe the sides to go back or forth, and swipe and hold to bring up all the currently open apps on the phone.

One of new features that takes advantage of the slider mechanism is to bring up a customizable quick menu that lets you quickly access apps such as a recorder, stopwatch or take notes. You can also set it to just take a picture with the front selfie camera.

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Tide gauges capture tremor episodes in cascadian subduction zone

Tide gauges capture tremor episodes in cascadian subduction zone

Hourly water level records collected from tide gauges can be used to measure land uplift caused by episodic tremor and slip of slow earthquakes in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, according to a new report in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

Global Positioning System (GPS) data are typically used to measure uplift from these events, but the new findings offer a way to study the phenomena using tidal gauge records collected in the pre-GPS era, before 1995, the study’s authors said.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone marks where the North American continental plate collides with multiple oceanic plates. The collision can produce devastating megathrust earthquakes that result in massive loss of life and damage to infrastructure, with the last one occurring in the region in 1700. But the zone also hosts slow earthquakes, accompanied by episodic tremor and slip (ETS), that take months or years to release the energy built up by the colliding plates.

The slow earthquakes are of interest to seismologists looking for clues about exactly where and how the plates may be colliding, said Sequoia Alba of the University of Oregon, lead author on the BSSA paper.

In particular, the earthquakes might help researchers understand the boundaries of the “locked zone” at the interface of the plates, where a rupture is likely to occur in the event of a megathrust earthquake.

“The part of the fault that is slipping during ETS can’t be totally locked, because it is experiencing periodic slow earthquakes, so that area sort of defines the edge of what could theoretically slip, producing destructive seismic waves, during a megathrust earthquake,” Alba explained.

“How destructive [a megathrust earthquake] would be to the people and cities of the Pacific Northwest will depend largely on where on the interface the earthquake happens — in this case, how far inland it happens — because the intensity of shaking is dependent on distance,” she added. “If the part of the fault that slips during an earthquake is beneath the ocean floor miles out to sea, for example, that will be less damaging to cities like Portland and Seattle than if the slip patch is directly beneath those cities.”

Other seismologists have suggested that ETC “may change in some observable way over the megathrust cycle that would help us predict how likely an earthquake is in a given period in the future,” Alba noted.

Alba and her colleagues turned to tide gauge data as a possible way to detect ETS patterns before the use of GPS in the Cascadia region. They looked for signs of ETS-related uplift reflected in the hourly water levels measured by four gauges along the Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound, at Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Neah Bay and Seattle. Average relative sea level (compared to a fixed point on land) should appear to descend as the land itself deforms upward during a slow earthquake.

The researchers then calculated the amount of uplift and uplift rates suggested by the gauge records between 1996 and 2011, comparing their results to uplift as measured by GPS over the same time period. The gauge data were not sensitive enough to capture individual ETS events, Alba and colleagues concluded, but they could be used to detect periodic groups of ETS events.

Both the GPS and tide gauge data suggest these events occurred every 14.6 months between 1996 and 2011, but Alba and colleagues could not find that same pattern in the tide gauge data from 1980 to 1995. “Our results are too preliminary to characterize how ETS changes, or if ETS was present during the pre-GPS era, but there does appear to have been a change,” they write.

The recurrence interval for ETS could have been different between 1980 to 1995, they suggest, or slip might have been taking place along a different part of the Cascadia interface during the earlier time period that would not have been captured in the tidal data.

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New molecular blueprint advances our understanding of photosynthesis

New molecular blueprint advances our understanding of photosynthesis

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have used one of the most advanced microscopes in the world to reveal the structure of a large protein complex crucial to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into cellular energy.

The finding, published in the journal Nature, will allow scientists to explore for the first time how the complex functions and could have implications for the production of a variety of bioproducts, including plastic alternatives and biofuels.

“This work will lead to a better understanding of how photosynthesis occurs, which could allow us to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in plants and other green organisms — potentially boosting the amount of food, and thus biomass, they produce,” said lead researcher Karen Davies, a biophysicist at Berkeley Lab. “This is particularly important if you want to produce renewable bioproducts that are cost-effective alternatives to current petroleum-based products.”

Discovered decades ago, the protein complex targeted by the researchers, called NADH dehydrogenase-like complex (NDH), is known to help regulate the phase of photosynthesis where the energy of sunlight is captured and stored in two types of cellular energy molecules, which are later utilized to power the conversion of carbon dioxide into sugar. Past investigations revealed that NDH reshuffles the energized electrons moving among other protein complexes in the chloroplast in a way that ensures the correct ratio of each energy molecule is produced. Furthermore, NDH of cyanobacteria performs several additional roles including increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) available for sugar production by linking CO2 uptake with electron transfer.

In order for scientists to truly comprehend how NDH executes these important functions, they needed a molecular blueprint indicating the location and connectivity of all the atoms in the complex. This is something that even highly powerful transmission electron microscopy (TEM) technology simply could not provide until very recently.

“Research on this enzyme has been difficult and experimental results confounding for the last 20 years or so because we have lacked complete information about the enzyme’s structure,” said Davies. “Knowing the structure is important for generating and testing out hypotheses of how the enzyme functions. The resolution we obtained for our structure of NDH has only really been achievable since the commercialization of the direct electron counting camera, developed in collaboration with Berkeley Lab.”

Prior to this invention, explained Davies, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Biophysics and Integrative Bioimaging Division (MBIB), determining the structure of a single molecule could take several years because cryo-TEM imaging relied on film, meaning that each exposure had to be developed and scanned before it could be analyzed. The main limitation, however, was that most images turned out blurry. When you directed a beam of electrons at a molecule, the charged, high-energy particles excited the atoms in the molecule, often making them move at the moment of exposure. This meant that researchers needed to take and process hundreds, if not thousands, of film images in order to get an accurate glimpse of an entire molecule.

The new electron counting camera solves this problem by taking digital movies with an extremely high frame rate, so individual frames can be aligned to eliminate blurring caused by beam-induced particle motion.

In the current study, first author Thomas Laughlin, a UC Berkeley graduate student with a joint appointment at MBIB, isolated NDH complexes from membranes of a photosynthetic cyanobacterium provided by the Junko Yano and Vittal Yachandra Lab in MBIB and imaged them using a state-of-the-art cryo-TEM instrument fitted with the latest direct electron detector. Located on the UC Berkeley campus, the cryo-TEM facility is managed by the Bay Area CryoEM consortium, which is partly funded by Berkeley Lab.

The resulting atom density map was then used to build a model of NDH that shows the arrangement of all the protein subunits of NDH and the most likely position of all the atoms in the complex. By examining this model, Davies’ team will be able to formulate and then test hypotheses of how NDH facilitates sugar production by balancing the ratio of the two cellular energy molecules.

“While the structure of NDH alone certainly addresses many questions, I think it has raised several more that we had not even thought to consider before,” said Laughlin.

Among the many Berkeley Lab scientists focused on advancing knowledge of fundamental biochemical and biophysical processes, Davies and her staff also use direct electron camera cryo-EM to investigate how variations in the organization of photosynthetic complexes, caused by changes in growth and light conditions, affect the efficiency of photosynthesis. Her project on electron flow in photosynthesis is supported by a five-year DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program grant that was awarded in 2018.

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Bringing the wonder of old-school survey maps into three dimensions

Bringing the wonder of old-school survey maps into three dimensions

Mapping technology is infinitely better than it used to be, but satellites and LiDAR can never recapture the craft that went into making old-school US Geological Survey Maps. Instead, graphic designer Scott Reinhard is trying to bring a modern touch to the old designs using 3D technology. He used elevation data from the United States Geological Survey to create 3D elevations of the topography, then merged the data with the vintage designs of the old maps.

Reinhard produced the maps as a way to better grasp a region’s geography himself while also telling a story about what forces created it. He tended to choose regions with a personal connection or those that piqued his curiosity. “I am from Indiana, which always felt so flat and boring,” he told Colossal. “When I began rendering the elevation data for the state, the story of the land emerged. The glaciers that receded across the northern half of the state after the last ice age scraped and gouged and shaped the land in a way that is spectacularly clear.”

Many students struggle to decipher geology and geography maps, so for Reinhard, the project was a way to gain a better understanding of the forces that shaped American landscapes. “As a visual person, I was most intrigued by the ability to visually harness data and create images that helped me gain insight into locations,” he said. “I felt empowered by the ability to collect and process the vast amounts of information freely available, and create beautiful images.”

The US Geological Survey created maps starting in the 1800s not only to aid industry, but as educational tools for tourists and students. As such, it tried to make them as accessible as possible through the use of color and other touches.

Reinhard has taken that idea to its logical next step by incorporating true 3D that lets mountains and other objects cast shadows, adding to the realism and making them more engaging. His 3D map of Yellowstone Park, based on a preliminary 1878 geological survey, is particularly engaging (above, left). You can buy high-quality prints of his Chromogenic prints that use traditional color photography development, on his website.

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DOJ busts gang for allegedly sold fake cars on eBay

DOJ busts gang for allegedly sold fake cars on eBay

The Department of Justice has unsealed information about an organized crime ring that used online sites like eBay and Craigslist to defraud people. 20 people, including 16 people from Romania and Bulgaria, stand accused of RICO, wire fraud and money laundering offenses, as well as identify theft.

According to the documents, the Romanian team would create fake ads on websites like Craigslist and eBay for pricey goods. Apparently the common item would be a car, and interested buyers would be encouraged to pay before delivery.

In order to sell the scam, the profiles would claim that they were in the military, and needed to sell the car before being deployed. Images and names had been sourced from real people, and used faked emails from eBay and Aol Autos*, even going so far as to include fake customer service addresses.

When people paid up, the cash was quickly exchanged for cryptocurrency, which was then passed over to associates based overseas. That allegedly included the owners of Coinflux and R G Coins, a pair of Romanian exchanges.

If found guilty, the gang can expect up to 20 years in jail and hefty fines that range from $250,000 through to $500,000. And the DoJ has added that if you think you may have been caught in this scam, you can submit your information to help the case.

*Aol Autos is/was a property owned by Engadget’s current/former parent company, yadda yadda.

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E-ticketing flaw could allow hackers to print boarding passes

E-ticketing flaw could allow hackers to print boarding passes


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E-ticketing systems used by eight major airlines, including Southwest, suffer from a lax security that could expose personal information and result in tampering with seats and boarding passes. Researchers at mobile security firm Wandera published a report highlighting vulnerability found in check-in emails delivered to passengers. While there is no evidence of any significant breach, the vulnerability may still give travelers pause.

According to the researchers, the issue stems from the use of unencrypted check-in links sent to passengers via email. When a person clicks on the link, they are directed to a site to check in for their flight, make changes or print their boarding pass. Because the links are unencrypted, Wandera warns that a malicious actor connected to the same Wi-Fi network could intercept the link request and gain access to the person’s check-in page.

Once a hacker has access to the page, they could view a significant amount of personal information, from names and addresses to Passport and ID numbers. They could also access specific details about the flight including booking references, flight times and numbers and seat assignments.

Because of how the vulnerability is exploited, it’s unlikely that any sort of widespread attack could be launched against travelers. It would have to be a focused effort directed at individuals. However, it does open up the possibility of a hacker making someone’s life miserable by changing their travel plans. Travelers can primarily avoid such an attack by making sure to only visit check-in links on a secure network.

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UAE surveillance unit used iPhone hacking software to track dissidents

UAE surveillance unit used iPhone hacking software to track dissidents


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Former US intelligence agents reportedly worked with UAE security officials to remotely hack into the iPhones of dissidents and world leaders using a spying tool. The so-called “Karma” software allowed the covert cyber-operations unit (code named Project Raven) to access “iPhones simply by uploading phone numbers or email accounts into an automated targeting system,” according to Reuters.

Karma reportedly didn’t work on Android devices, but was deemed especially powerful as it could plant malware on an iPhone without requiring an action from the target. Three former operatives said the tool relied partially on a flaw in iMessage. All it supposedly took to trigger the breach was for a text message to be sent to the target device using the cyber-tool. Both Apple and the UAE government declined to comment on the report.

In 2016 and 2017, the hacking unit composed of ex-American intelligence operatives working as contractors for the UAE’s intelligence services set up camp in Abu Dhabi. From there, they harnessed the tool to acquire photos, emails, texts and location data from targets’ iPhones. Karma also reportedly helped the team to scoop saved passwords for other breaches, according to several former operatives (who were not Emirati citizens) and program documents reviewed by Reuters.

In 2017, the operatives allegedly used Karma to hack an iPhone used by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as well as the devices of Turkey’s former Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek, and Oman’s head of foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah. Ultimately, the tool was apparently used to gain entry into the accounts of hundreds of prominent Middle Eastern political figures and activists across the region and in Europe. However, there’s no evidence (as of yet) to suggest that compromising information was leaked. The Washington embassies of Qatar, Oman and Turkey did not respond to the report. Nor could Reuters confirm the origin of Karma, though it said it was purchased from a vendor outside the UAE.

In a separate Reuters exposé, Lori Stroud (a former NSA staffer who later joined Project Raven) said Karma was also used to spy on American citizens. Whereas US contractors being hired for assistance with espionage remains a grey area, hacking or stealing info from America is considered illegal. Stroud told of how she’d been recruited by a Maryland cybersecurity contractor named CyberPoint only to wind up in the UAE in 2016. The small Middle-Eastern nation, and ally of Saudi Arabia, brought on Stroud (and other US contractors) to help launch its cyber-surveillance program, which was overseen by local cybersecurity firm DarkMatter.

By the end of 2017, Karma had apparently become far less effective due to Apple’s iOS security updates. But the timing of this report couldn’t be worse for Apple, arriving as it does in the wake of its FaceTime bug that let users eavesdrop on calls — and in light of CEO Tim Cook’s calls for increased privacy and GDPR-style regulations in the US).

Apple has infamously resisted calls from law enforcement to create a backdoor piece of software that could bypass the security protections built into iOS. Faced with the blockade, the FBI turned to a third-party to crack the iPhone 5c belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers back in 2016. That in turn led to a lucrative market springing up for zero-day iPhone exploits.

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iRobot Terra mower cuts your lawn with Roomba-like smarts

iRobot Terra mower cuts your lawn with Roomba-like smarts


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If you took a look at newer Roombas and wondered why that clever mapping couldn’t be used to cut your lawn… well, you’re not alone. iRobot has unveiled the Terra, a robotic lawn mower that uses the company’s mapping tech to trim your grass with minimal fuss. Instead of marking your lawn area with boundary wires as you do with many existing robomowers, you place wireless beacons (shown below) and drive the bot once around the perimeter. After that, it’s largely hands-off. Like a Roomba, the Terra will automatically make the rounds and return to a charging base whenever it’s low on power.

You can use iRobot’s Home app to schedule lawn cutting, fine-tune the grass height and specify areas that are off-limits. It shouldn’t shred your petunias, then. The bot itself is built to survive the rain and can handle the not-so-forgiving terrain in your yard.

Don’t expect to buy a Terra all that soon. iRobot is only promising to sell the mower sometime in 2019, and the company has only committed to launches in both Germany and (in beta form) the US. This is more of a tentative step into an unfamiliar category than a full-on leap. With that said, this might help take robotic mowers into the mainstream. It eliminates some of the complexity of robot mowers and comes from what’s arguably the best-known name in household robotics. There’s no guarantee it’ll succeed, especially when pricing remains an unknown, but it stands a better chance than most.

iRobot Terra wireless beacon

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CRISPR/Cas9 used to control genetic inheritance in mice: Technology offers powerful new genetic tools for human disease research in rodents

CRISPR/Cas9 used to control genetic inheritance in mice: Technology offers powerful new genetic tools for human disease research in rodents

Biologists at the University of California San Diego have developed the world’s first CRISPR/Cas9-based approach to control genetic inheritance in a mammal.

Scientists around the world have been using CRISPR/Cas9 in a variety of plant and animal species to edit genetic information. One approach to editing the genome can control which of the two copies of a gene is passed to the next generation. While such “active genetics” approaches have been developed in recent years in insects, creating such tools in mammals is more challenging, and testing them takes much longer due to the longer time between generations.

Publishing their work January 23 in the journal Nature, a joint team of UC San Diego researchers developed a new active genetic technology in mice. The achievement of UC San Diego graduate student Hannah Grunwald, Assistant Researcher Valentino Gantz and colleagues led by Assistant Professor Kimberly Cooper, lays the groundwork for further advances based on this technology, including biomedical research on human disease.

“Our motivation was to develop this as a tool for laboratory researchers to control the inheritance of multiple genes in mice,” said Cooper. “With further development we think it will be possible to make animal models of complex human genetic diseases, like arthritis and cancer, that are not currently possible.”

To demonstrate feasibility in mice, the researchers engineered an active genetic “CopyCat” DNA element into the Tyrosinase gene that controls fur color. When the CopyCat element disrupts both copies of the gene in a mouse, fur that would have been black is instead white, an obvious readout of the success of their approach. The CopyCat element also was designed so that it cannot spread through a population on its own, in contrast with CRISPR/Cas9 “gene drive” systems in insects that were built on a similar underlying molecular mechanism.

Over the two-year project period, the researchers used a variety of strategies to determine that the CopyCat element could be copied from one chromosome to the other to repair a break in the DNA targeted by CRISPR/Cas9. As a result, the element that was initially present on only one of the two chromosomes was copied to the other chromosome. In one of the families, as many as 86 percent of offspring inherited the CopyCat element from the female parent instead of the usual 50 percent.

The new approach worked in female mice during the production of eggs, but not during the production of sperm in males. This is possibly due to a difference in the timing of male and female meiosis, a process that normally pairs chromosomes to shuffle the genome and may assist this engineered copying event.

According to UC San Diego Professor Ethan Bier, a study coauthor, the results, “open the way for various applications in synthetic biology including the modular assembly of complex genetic systems for studying diverse biological processes.”

Cooper and members of her lab are now springboarding off this first mammalian active genetic success — based on a single gene — and attempting to expand the tool to multiple genes and traits.

“We’ve shown that we can convert one genotype from heterozygous to homozygous. Now we want to see if we can efficiently control the inheritance of three genes in an animal. If this can be implemented for multiple genes at once, it could revolutionize mouse genetics,” said Cooper.

While the new technology was developed for laboratory research, some have envisioned future gene drives that would build on this approach in the wild for efforts to restore the balance of natural biodiversity in ecosystems overrun by invasive species, including rodents.

“With additional refinements, it should be possible to develop gene-drive technologies to either modify or possibly reduce mammalian populations that are vectors for disease or cause damage to indigenous species,” said Bier.

However, these data also indicate that technical improvements needed for practical use in the wild allow time for careful consideration of which applications of this new technology could and should be implemented. The researchers note, however, that their results demonstrate a substantial advance that might already decrease the time, cost and number of animals needed to advance biomedical research on human diseases and to understand other types of complex genetic traits.

“We are also interested in understanding the mechanisms of evolution,” said Cooper. “For certain traits that have evolved over tens of millions of years, the number of genetic changes is greater than we can currently assemble in mice to understand what caused bat fingers to grow into a wing, for example. So we want to make lots of these active genetic tools to understand the origins of mammalian diversity.”

Former UC San Diego Postdoctoral Fellow Gunnar Poplawski (co-first author, now at the National University of Singapore) and Staff Research Associate Xiang-ru Xu also contributed to the study.

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GoFundMe launches campaign for government workers hit by shutdown

GoFundMe launches campaign for government workers hit by shutdown


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People have frequently used GoFundMe to lend a helping hand to others in need of some help, but the site itself is getting involved in light of the US government shutdown. The company has teamed up with Deepak Chopra to launch a donation campaign for government workers who’ve been furloughed or are being forced to work without pay. The initiative will donate contributors’ money to “several” non-profits providing relief, including #ChefsForFeds (providing food) and the National Diaper Bank Network. More organizations will come onboard as the campaign continues, GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon said.

The executive stressed that this was “not about politics.” It was a matter of “lending a helping hand” to people who need it, he said. The funds are going to the public Direct Impact Fund charity.

Whatever the motivations, it’s uncommon for GoFundMe to wade into situations like this. The company tends to stay out politics entirely unless a campaign violates policies. At the same time, it’s a reflection of how much charity has changed with the advent of online crowdfunding. Those sites are quickly becoming the first destination for people looking to help, and GoFundMe is clearly aware of that trend.

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Unity rolls out new rules for devs after Improbable fight

Unity rolls out new rules for devs after Improbable fight

Unity has had a change of heart. The company is updating its Terms of Service so that any third-party software, including SpatialOS, can be used in conjunction with its popular game engine. “Some of these services will be supported, others will not,” Joachim Ante, co-founder and CTO of Unity explained in a blog post. “The distinction is that with a supported service, we understand the technology. We make sure the service and Unity work better together for developers.”

That’s in stark contrast to the previous Terms of Service update, published last December, which banned games from being run in the cloud, or on a remote server, “without a separate license or authorization from Unity.”

The change means that Improbable, the company behind SpatialOS — a cloud-based server platform that helps developers build games with large and persistent worlds — is no longer breaching Unity’s terms. SpatialOS isn’t officially supported, meaning Unity can’t vouch for its quality or compatibility, but developers can continue to use the platform for live and still-in-development games. “We do not consider them a partner, and cannot vouch for how their service works with Unity as we have no insight into their technology or how they run their business,” Ante added.

Why does this matter? Well, Unity and Improbable were at each other’s metaphorical throats last week. Improbable moved first with a blog post, titled Unity’s block of SpatialOS, which explained how the Terms of Service (the version published in December) meant all SpatialOS games were in breach. Developers that used the two services in tandem, such as Bossa Studios and Spilt Milk Studios, worried that their SpatialOS games would soon be shut down. Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games — the company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine — suggested the new Terms of Service could affect other multiplayer games such as Fortnite and PUBG.

“In the middle of the situation, caught off-guard, were developers like us, in full sail,” Henrique Olifiers, co-founder and CEO of Bossa Studios, said in a blog post today.

Unity sprang into action with a statement that called Improbable’s blog post “incorrect.” Ante clarified that projects “currently in production or live using SpatialOS are not affected by any actions we have taken with Improbable.” He said Unity had told Improbable “more than a year ago” that it was breaching the engine’s Terms of Service. The company supplied written confirmation six months later, then blocked Improbable employees from using their Unity Editor license keys in late December. “This was the only course of action to protect the integrity and value of our technology and Unity developers,” Ante said.

Improbable responded with another statement that said “both sides have certainly made errors.” Epic Games then published a blog post, co-written by Sweeney and Improbable co-founder Herman Narula, that announced their “commitment to giving game developers the best combination of engine and other technology backed by interoperable standards that work for everyone, while respecting developers’ ability to choose partners and software components freely.” The pair also announced a $25 million fund “to help developers transition to more open engines, services, and ecosystems.” A not-so-subtle ploy, it seems, to draw developers away from Unity’s game engine.

Improbable published a third and final blog post on January 11th. The company argued that it had been told verbally by “Unity at the most senior level that we were not in breach of their terms of service” last year. “We regarded this as the end of the matter and proceeded with commercial discussions,” the company said. “Until the recent change, neither we nor Unity had reason to believe there was any issue for developers.”

Today, Unity is effectively backing down. Improbable’s license keys have been reinstated and developers can legally build games that leverage both Unity and SpatialOS. Ante said the Terms of Service published in December were supposed to clarify its business model and how Unity could be used with cloud-based software. “After listening to developers, we realized how this language came across, and how it would impact your ability to choose,” he said. The new Terms of Service published today, however, are more than a clarification — they allow game developers to use any piece of software with Unity, even if it’s not officially supported:

Unity developers are free to use any service offered to Unity developers (each, a “Third Party Service”). Unity does not have any obligation to provide support for any Third Party Service provider or Third Party Service under this Agreement.

Third Party Service providers may not, without Unity’s express written permission: (1) use a stylized version of any Unity name, trademark, logos, images or product icons, or other Unity-owned graphic symbols; (2) use a product name confusingly similar to a Unity product or that could be construed by Unity developers as being a Unity product or service; or (3) create or use any marketing materials that suggest an affiliation with, or endorsement by, Unity. All use of Unity’s trademarks must comply with Unity’s Trademark Guidelines.

Improbable and Epic Games are yet to respond to Unity’s newly updated Terms of Service. Ante and John Riccitiello, the CEO of Unity, will be conducting an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit at 1PM ET/10AM PST/7PM CET to address further questions from the community.

Nick Summers is a writer, photographer and editor at Engadget. He studied multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University and holds an NCTJ certificate. Before joining Oath, Nick was a staff writer at The Next Web and an investigative journalist at FE Week, an education-focused newspaper in the UK. He lives on the south coast of England with a stack of half-finished Gundam model kits.


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Technique identifies electricity-producing bacteria: Microbes screened with a new microfluidic process might be used in power generation or environmental cleanup

Technique identifies electricity-producing bacteria: Microbes screened with a new microfluidic process might be used in power generation or environmental cleanup

Living in extreme conditions requires creative adaptations. For certain species of bacteria that exist in oxygen-deprived environments, this means finding a way to breathe that doesn’t involve oxygen. These hardy microbes, which can be found deep within mines, at the bottom of lakes, and even in the human gut, have evolved a unique form of breathing that involves excreting and pumping out electrons. In other words, these microbes can actually produce electricity.

Scientists and engineers are exploring ways to harness these microbial power plants to run fuel cells and purify sewage water, among other uses. But pinning down a microbe’s electrical properties has been a challenge: The cells are much smaller than mammalian cells and extremely difficult to grow in laboratory conditions.

Now MIT engineers have developed a microfluidic technique that can quickly process small samples of bacteria and gauge a specific property that’s highly correlated with bacteria’s ability to produce electricity. They say that this property, known as polarizability, can be used to assess a bacteria’s electrochemical activity in a safer, more efficient manner compared to current techniques.

“The vision is to pick out those strongest candidates to do the desirable tasks that humans want the cells to do,” says Qianru Wang, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“There is recent work suggesting there might be a much broader range of bacteria that have [electricity-producing] properties,” adds Cullen Buie, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “Thus, a tool that allows you to probe those organisms could be much more important than we thought. It’s not just a small handful of microbes that can do this.”

Buie and Wang have published their results today in Science Advances.

Just between frogs

Bacteria that produce electricity do so by generating electrons within their cells, then transferring those electrons across their cell membranes via tiny channels formed by surface proteins, in a process known as extracellular electron transfer, or EET.

Existing techniques for probing bacteria’s electrochemical activity involve growing large batches of cells and measuring the activity of EET proteins — a meticulous, time-consuming process. Other techniques require rupturing a cell in order to purify and probe the proteins. Buie looked for a faster, less destructive method to assess bacteria’s electrical function.

For the past 10 years, his group has been building microfluidic chips etched with small channels, through which they flow microliter-samples of bacteria. Each channel is pinched in the middle to form an hourglass configuration. When a voltage is applied across a channel, the pinched section — about 100 times smaller than the rest of the channel — puts a squeeze on the electric field, making it 100 times stronger than the surrounding field. The gradient of the electric field creates a phenomenon known as dielectrophoresis, or a force that pushes the cell against its motion induced by the electric field. As a result, dielectrophoresis can repel a particle or stop it in its tracks at different applied voltages, depending on that particle’s surface properties.

Researchers including Buie have used dielectrophoresis to quickly sort bacteria according to general properties, such as size and species. This time around, Buie wondered whether the technique could suss out bacteria’s electrochemical activity — a far more subtle property.

“Basically, people were using dielectrophoresis to separate bacteria that were as different as, say, a frog from a bird, whereas we’re trying to distinguish between frog siblings — tinier differences,” Wang says.

An electric correlation

In their new study, the researchers used their microfluidic setup to compare various strains of bacteria, each with a different, known electrochemical activity. The strains included a “wild-type” or natural strain of bacteria that actively produces electricity in microbial fuel cells, and several strains that the researchers had genetically engineered. In general, the team aimed to see whether there was a correlation between a bacteria’s electrical ability and how it behaves in a microfluidic device under a dielectrophoretic force.

The team flowed very small, microliter samples of each bacterial strain through the hourglass-shaped microfluidic channel and slowly amped up the voltage across the channel, one volt per second, from 0 to 80 volts. Through an imaging technique known as particle image velocimetry, they observed that the resulting electric field propelled bacterial cells through the channel until they approached the pinched section, where the much stronger field acted to push back on the bacteria via dielectrophoresis and trap them in place.

Some bacteria were trapped at lower applied voltages, and others at higher voltages. Wang took note of the “trapping voltage” for each bacterial cell, measured their cell sizes, and then used a computer simulation to calculate a cell’s polarizability — how easy it is for a cell to form electric dipoles in response to an external electric field.

From her calculations, Wang discovered that bacteria that were more electrochemically active tended to have a higher polarizability. She observed this correlation across all species of bacteria that the group tested.

“We have the necessary evidence to see that there’s a strong correlation between polarizability and electrochemical activity,” Wang says. “In fact, polarizability might be something we could use as a proxy to select microorganisms with high electrochemical activity.”

Wang says that, at least for the strains they measured, researchers can gauge their electricity production by measuring their polarizability — something that the group can easily, efficiently, and nondestructively track using their microfluidic technique.

Collaborators on the team are currently using the method to test new strains of bacteria that have recently been identified as potential electricity producers.

“If the same trend of correlation stands for those newer strains, then this technique can have a broader application, in clean energy generation, bioremediation, and biofuels production,” Wang says.

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, and the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, through a grant from the U.S. Army.

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Google used CES 2019 to show off just how big its Assistant is

Google used CES 2019 to show off just how big its Assistant is

Google made a huge splash at CES 2018, taking over the parking lot with a giant interactive booth. This year, the company was back, and everything was bigger. I mean, the entire second floor of the booth was a Google Assistant Ride, basically the company’s version of Disney’s iconic “It’s a Small World” ride. But, you know, as a marketing stunt rather than inspirational experience.

The literally massive Google Playground dovetailed nicely with Google’s news here at CES 2019. The company will hit 1 billion active Assistant devices by the end of the month, up from 400 million the year before. There’s no doubt Google has incredible momentum behind it, but as for this year’s news? Well, it was a little more modest. Google rolled out a nice new Interpreter tool, added the Assistant into Google Maps navigation, revealed a slew of new hardware partners, and showed off some clever new third-party Assistant hardware.

But what’s perhaps most important is that even without a huge new feature or hardware device to show off, Google is broadcasting to everyone that it’ll be at CES for years to come, getting the Assistant on as many devices as possible and slugging it out with Amazon for voice-activated dominance.

Follow all the latest news from CES 2019 here!

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3 Things to Consider in Choosing What Cryptocurrency Exchange You Should Use

3 Things to Consider in Choosing What Cryptocurrency Exchange You Should Use

Cryptocurrency

A decentralized monetary network used to be the dream of one anonymous man/woman who goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto. This unknown entity managed to achieve its dream to create a decentralized cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is an electronic medium of exchange that exists out of the reach of monetary policy and control. It uses sophisticated algorithms and computer engineering methods to be anti-counterfeit and to render its trackability almost obsolete. Thanks to their decentralization and security, users have a much wider array of uses under a big umbrella of anonymity. Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency but it wasn’t the last; nowadays, there are hundreds of different cryptocurrencies with different market values.

We will be presenting you the best 3 tips that can help you choose which cryptocurrency exchange is the most suitable for you.

Safety and Reliability

You need to do a fair amount of research before choosing a cryptocurrency exchange to make sure you are getting the safest and most practical platform that you could get. Trading volume is a very good indicator of the reliability of the exchange platform and the direction a specific token will take in the future. A common way for exchangers to pump their metrics is by using bots, the best way to avoid such exchanges is to check the proven track record and go with the best exchanger that is publicly known for its reliability. Crypto Head has done a great job of coming up with the best 10 exchangers available in Canada today.

Available Tokens for Exchange

It’s no big deal to find an exchanger that supports Bitcoin and Ethereum since they are the most prominent cryptocurrencies in the market currently. The main difference between exchangers is the variation of tokens available for exchange. Some have a lot of supported altcoins while others have only three or four supported tokens. Make sure to research exchangers to know if they support all the types of coins that you would like to trade while monitoring the rates of exchange due to market cap and volume.

Trading Platform and Fees

Choosing the best cryptocurrency exchange method can be a deal-breaker. There are 3 main methods; machine or platform based, where the user only interacts with the website by scheduling orders to buy or sell cryptocurrency without directly interacting with the seller or the buyer, with a transaction fee on every trade; peer-to-peer aka P2P, dependent on getting both sides to agree to the transaction, making it an accurate, secure and fast way to communicate and make trades; cryptocurrency brokers, where the price of the token is already pre-determined by brokers and the buying process is fully completed through interaction with the platform.

Time to Exchange

The amounts and types of tokens are constantly increasing every day, researching the market and exchanges is the only sure-fire way to make sure you are not wasting your investment due to lack of knowledge. Cryptocurrency exchange has become one of the greatest digital investments one can rely on, especially in the long run. Once you get your priorities in line, this seemingly uncharted territory is going to become an exhilarating and action-packed adventure.

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I just had my ass handed to me by a boxing robot

I just had my ass handed to me by a boxing robot

BotBoxer is the creation of SkyTech Sport, a company that makes gym equipment, most famous for the simulators used to train the US olympic ski team. Five years ago, the Los Angeles-based company turned its attention to creating a robotic boxing trainer, which it showed off in Las Vegas. I was excited to try the machine out for myself, despite being a total novice in the world of boxing.

Gallery: BotBoxer Robot Boxing Gym | 6 Photos

Essentially, BotBoxer is a punchbag on a stick, itself loaded up with a number of sensors that can detect pressure and movement. The stick is then connected to a base and held in place with a series of cables that can angle it around to dodge blows during sparring. Surrounding the dais is a series of pillars in the faux-boxing ring style, the closest two loaded up with infrared sensors, as are the base.

In tandem, the sensors can analyze your feet and body position to determine your stance, and predict where you’re about to hit. Knowing this, the bag can bob and weave around to avoid your punches to make the ideal sparring partner when your trainer is unavailable. Priced at $19,900, it’s intended for use by gyms and the sort of rich people who can probably afford an army of flunkies to fight them anyway.

I was guided through an early tutorial and some regular drills by Bo, one of BotBoxer’s trainers and someone who knows their way around a boxing ring. Bo gave me a crash course in how not to suck at boxing, and any injury I sustained was through no fault of her excellent teaching. That included how to use my body to power my strikes and how not to smash my hand to pieces when punching.

Every time you strike the bag (and every time you miss), you’ll be given voice guidance to help you improve. Sometimes that’s as simple as telling you to step back, or adjust your stance, through to being told you need more power in your strike. Hit badly, or at a potentially injurious angle, and you’ll get a sound effect that’ll let you know you’ve done something wrong.

The BotBoxer is very customizable, and you can tweak features like motion, consistency, distance and reaction. You can even set it so that, if you hit it successfully several times on the bounce, it’ll get less reactive and woozier, like a punch-drunk boxer.

Get past the tutorial and you’ll be thrown head-first into training drills, asking you to jab and punch in rhythm to perfect your technique. From there, you can go into a sparring mode where you can go a number of rounds to see if you can knock it out. The sparring mode is enormous fun, and I could imagine myself spending plenty of time playing with this thing as I learned.

Certainly, this isn’t the sort of device I’d suggest a beginner just rock up and try, since you need a good grounding in the art of boxing. Even after my own grounding in the very basics of the sport, I still managed to pull a muscle in my right arm and hurt my hand pretty decently. Mostly because I, stupidly, thought I had it and went for a big haymaker, only wound up giving BotBoxer more of an open-handed slap. As you do.

Follow all the latest news from CES 2019 here!

In this article:

BotBoxer, Boxing, BoxingRobot, CES2019, gear, Gym, home, Robot

After training to be an intellectual property lawyer, Dan abandoned a promising career in financial services to sit at home and play with gadgets. He lives in Norwich, U.K., with his wife, his books and far too many opinions on British TV comedy. One day, if he’s very, very lucky, he’ll live out his dream to become the executive producer of Doctor Who before retiring to Radio 4.

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