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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 31st Jul 2018

Details of an unannounced new drone from market leader DJI have been revealed early in the Argos catalogue.

The latest edition of the catalogue store's literature features photos and technical specifications of the as yet unannounced Mavic 2 Pro drone.

DJI had postponed a press event planned for 18 July, where it was expected to announce its new devices.

It said in a statement that the catalogue had been printed before the event had been delayed.

Skip Twitter post by @Chromonian

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter


Brett Thake@Chromonian

Of all places to confirm the Mavic 2 its Argos UK - 2 additions being released Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro (1” CMOS sensor) - both 31 mins of flight time, 8km range and 1080P live video transmission @OsitaLV @DroneDJ

4:34 PM - Jul 28, 2018

Twitter Ads info and privacy


End of Twitter post by @Chromonian

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones tested the original Mavic Pro with film-maker Philip Bloom in 2016.

It proved popular with film-makers because it could be folded down to a compact size.

The listing in the Argos catalogue reveals that the Mavic 2 Pro is capable of streaming live HD video, and has "omni-directional obstacle sensing" to prevent collisions.

It also details a "zoom" version, which is equipped with an optical zoom lens.

However, it does not reveal how much the drones will cost and says customers should visit the Argos website for more information.

Argos usually produces a new catalogue every six months.

A spokesman for DJI said: "This pre-printed catalogue was scheduled before we postponed our 'See the Bigger Picture' event."

The company said the event had been delayed to "ensure we can deliver high-quality, cutting-edge technology to our customers".

It suggested the catalogue offered only a "hint" of the new drone's features. However, it did not say when they would be officially announced.

In a statement, Argos said: "Unfortunately we were informed of the delay in the launch of the DJI Mavic 2 after our new catalogues were printed."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 31st Jul 2018

Blockchain tokens can facilitate permanent, user-owned digital assets - without any control by gaming companies

Why blockchain is great for video games

In 'CryptoKitties', users buy a digital cat that is 'saved' on the Ethereum blockchain

  • Daniele Sileri
  • 30 July 2018


Video games companies have long used in-game token economies. Globalisation is the core reason - it's a lot easier to have a global unit of value that means an in-game item costs the same in New York as it does in Tokyo. It also makes for easier marketing if everything costs the same, plus keeping money in a game builds customer stickiness - gamers will keep coming back if they've prepaid for games.

Blockchain technology is a natural evolution for the security-conscious games developer; the distributed ledger technology is highly secure. However, there's something beyond pure tokens that is likely to make waves in games in the future: a new method of digital ownership. What's coming next is technology to make it possible for in-game digital assets to be owned and traded in the same way that items can be bought and sold in the physical world.

This kind of real world crossover is made possible by non-fungible tokens (NFTs). These are pieces of digital content that are each unique, are in limited supply and can be bought and traded either in or out of game. In video games, these tokens can exist as in-game items. Each token is tied to a public blockchain, which serves as a decentralised and immutable ledger that tracks ownership of the NFTs. The most widely used and best example of an NFT in action is the ERC721 standard, developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

Using blockchain in games for NFTs makes it possible for players to independently own their in-game digital items, completely outside of the control of games developers or third parties. This guarantees the rarity of that object and ensures that it is unique and non-duplicable - introducing the concept of digital scarcity. It has the added advantage that it is completely secure.

This will completely change how we regard digital ownership, with implications reaching far beyond the gaming industry. We think it will impact all creative industries, but that gaming will move first and faster; it's already creating entirely new games categories such as digital collectibles.

Blockchain games du jour

The game CryptoKitties is by far the most popular and well-known example of digital collectibles using NFTs. In this title, individuals use Ethereum to buy a digital representative of a cat, fully owned by the player, and all with different "physical" traits, like a long mane, or wings.

Its gaming aspect is limited - you can sell it or breed it. Breeding one CryptoKitty with another creates a new cat with some combination of both parents' traits. Like a modern form of Tamagotchi, CryptoKitties took off and proved so popular that it overloaded the entire Ethereum network. Other content owners have clearly taken note, with Major League Baseball launching NFT-based collectibles in July.

These first NFT games are the start of something revolutionary. While the first-generation games are run entirely within the Ethereum decentralised application (dApp) platform, meaning that every action requires ‘Gas' (a small payment in Ethereum's cryptocurrency) to complete, future games will be a hybrid between dApps and regular games.

These hybrid games will bridge the gap between crypto-collectibles and mainstream games. The game doesn't run in the Ethereum network, but your Ethereum-secured tokens become your ticket to be part of the game.

Hybrid ticket to take part

So, how does it work? Just like track days or kart racing in the real world, with hybrid driving games you could own a digital car and take it to virtual track days. But unlike the real world, you don't need a racing license to start, and if you and your car are good enough, you can fast track yourself straight to Formula 1. Unlike regular games, you'd own that in-game car, you could customise it however you wish and if you wanted to you could sell it.

It's an entirely new way of looking at the $100 billion gaming market, and could create an entirely new secondary market for these new digital assets. Using NFTs, every character or context in a computer game can be enshrined as an asset, providing new incentive models for both innovation and engagement, gradually moving towards an ecosystem where all digital assets could be represented by NFTs.

Daniele Sileri is CEO and co-founder at Blockchain Studios

Source: v3.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Jul 2018

Amid fears of millennials ditching iPlayer for Netflix, the BBC is stepping up its on-demand video ambitions. Expect more box sets, original shows and personalisation

Image result for iplayer bbc

  • When the beta of the BBC's iPlayer launched in July 2007, Netflix had only just pivoted to streaming movies over the internet. Fast forward a decade and Netflix is dominant. And that's a worry the BBC.

"iPlayer needs to change," Tony Hall, the BBC's director general, said earlier this year when outlining the corporation's plans for the live-streaming and catchup service. In 2017, Hall said the BBC needed to "reinvent" iPlayer.

"Our goal, even in the face of rapid growth by our competitors, is for iPlayer to be the number one online TV service in the UK," the BBC boss said last year.

As the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Netflix, which still has a successful DVD rental arm, has amassed 130 million subscribers globally. In the UK, Netflix is used in 8.2m households, with Amazon Prime on 4.3m and Now TV on 1.5m, according to figures from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB).

Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Now TV have some fundamental differences to the BBC's offering: they're all based on user subscriptions and mostly focus on movies and boxsets that are viewable for several months, or years. By comparison, iPlayer mostly makes shows available for 30 days after they were first broadcast and is paid for through the annual licence fee.

To compete with Netflix, the BBC is making iPlayer more like Netflix. "It was way ahead of everything else," says Tom Harrington, a senior broadcast research analyst at Enders Analysis. "It has really plateaued as a result of it being a catchup service rather than one where you can get full series of television shows."

"They're worried about iPlayer and understandably obsessed with declining viewership numbers for younger people," Harrington adds. 82 per cent of children use YouTube for on-demand content, 50 per cent often use Netflix and around 29 per cent use the BBC's iPlayer, according to the public broadcaster's annual 2018-19 plan says. Each week, people aged 16 to 24 spend more time on Netflix than all of the BBC's TV output, including iPlayer.

So, with iPlayer getting fewer younger viewers and the BBC admitting it needs to reinvent the service, what's happening? "They want to transform it from a pure catchup service to a service that people go to and browse for content," Harrington says.

As such, the BBC has been adding more boxsets and archive footage to iPlayer – and they don't have 30 day expiration periods. In June this year, every episode of Dr Who created since 2005 was added to iPlayer, The Musketeers was added in July, and 2016's version of War and Peace was also added. Most recently, the organisation added Pride and Prejudice, the original British version of House of Cards and period drama North & South.

The aim is for iPlayer to feature shows that haven't been on television recently and people may want to watch. In 2017, Hall said iPlayer needs to "make the leap from a catch-up service to a must-visit destination in its own right". Over the last six months, the iPlayer's archive section has been filled with more shows than ever before. Analysis from Enders found that boxsets added around Christmas 2017 brought 360,000 unique viewers per week to iPlayer.

The BBC's own data for April 2018 shows there were 277 million TV programme requests for the month – a three per cent year-on-year increase. The most-watched shows were dramas with most viewers under the age of 55.

Separately, the BBC's director general has argued that user personalisation is key to iPlayer's growth. The BBC says 15 million people sign-in to iPlayer each month and are presented with shows they may be interested in. The corporation is planning more personalisation, although it has not said what or how, during 2018.

The BBC has also been working on new content specifically for iPlayer and has commissioned popular YouTuber's to create a series of 20-minute shows aimed at 13 to 15-year-olds. The stars it relies upon are also becoming more involved: Louis Theroux has picked out a selection of documentaries that had a profound impact on his work, all of which are now available to stream on iPlayer. Separately, Netflix is increasing the number of original shows it is creating and spending $8 billion on new content in 2018.

The majority of the TV shows and movies commissioned or produced by the BBC don't end up on iPlayer for extended periods of time as it has the ability to make money from them elsewhere. BBC shows are licensed to Netflix – Planet EarthLuther and Sherlock for instance. BBC Worldwide also sells shows to international markets.

Harrington says if the BBC keeps its own shows on iPlayer for longer it is in the tricky position that they will be worth less when it comes to sell them. "The immediate problem of transitioning a bolstered iPlayer into a competitive offering is that the added cost of purchasing or retaining additional rights to make the platform desirable to viewers will cut into content expenditure across the board," he wrote in a research paper earlier this year.

But other events mean the UK's on-demand TV market could change more radically. Virgin Media has dropped channels from UKTV, which is part owned by BBC Worldwide, after a row around it its ability to show the channel's shows on-demand. Reports have also suggested the BBC and ITV are working on a subscription service and may remove their content from Netflix. Before streaming your favourite shows gets any easier, it looks set to get a whole lot more complex.

Looking for something to stream? These are the best documentaries on BBC's iPlayer and Netflix, the best series of Netflixbest Netflix films and everything new on Netflix.

Source: wired.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Jul 2018

Image result for apple watch

  • The Apple Watch performed strongly in the second quarter this year, research house Canalys reports, with 3.5 million units shipped worldwide.
  • But while its total shipments were up, Apple lost overall market share because competitors are catching up with their own products.
  • An analyst said Apple is facing a growing threat from competitors trying to differentiate their products with more hi-tech features.

The Apple Watch's dominance in the nascent smartwatch market is already under threat from the competition.

According to a report from research house Canalys, Apple did have a good second quarter, shipping 3.5 million Apple Watch units globally. That's a 30% bump on the same period last year.

But while shipments are up year on year, Apple's overall share of the market is down. It now stands at 34%, from 43% last year.

Apple Watch graph

Apple's overall shipments are up from Q2 2017, but its market share is down. Canalys


Canalys' analyst Vincent Thielke said this was a sign that Apple's facing tough competition from the likes of Fitbit and Garmin who were broadening out their offerings to attract different types of customers. Features like heart rate tracking and coaching are becoming standard too.

Thielke said: "Apple faces a growing threat from competitors, which have started to pass the million quarterly shipments mark.

"Vendors are trying to differentiate their products with advanced heart-rate metrics, smart coaching and mapping, and consumers now have a much wider range of smartwatches to choose from than they did a year ago."

He added that Apple will have to get creative if it wants to maintain its top spot — especially as its main source of income, the iPhone, begins to level off in developed markets.

"Amid further competition from Samsung and Google, rumored to be launching Galaxy and Pixel watches respectively, Apple needs to work out how to drive refreshes in markets such as the US, where its penetration into the existing iPhone installed base has started to level off."

One source of comfort is that the Apple Watch is selling well in a market Apple has generally struggled with: Asia. Excluding China, Apple's shipments surpassed 250,000 units. Its refreshed Apple Watch 3, with LTE, made up the bulk of shipments, suggesting it's a lot more successful than the predecessor.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Jul 2018

Microsoft will end support for Windows 7 in 17 months’ time.

Microsoft have recently announced that Windows 7 is to become ‘end of life’ with effect from 14th January 2020, what this means is that all product updates and more importantly, security updates for Windows 7, will cease from that date.

Without security updates, any vulnerabilities found in the software will be left unpatched and this could in turn lead to anyone using Windows 7 being exposed to potential malicious attack.

This is the Microsoft Statement :

“Microsoft made a commitment to provide 10 years of product support for Windows 7 when it was released on October 22, 2009. When this 10-year period ends, Microsoft will discontinue Windows 7 support so that they can focus our investment on supporting newer technologies and great new experiences. The specific end of support day for Windows 7 will be January 14, 2020. After that, technical assistance and automatic updates that help protect your PC will no longer be made available for the product. Microsoft strongly recommends that you move to Windows 10 sometime before January 2020 to avoid a situation where you need service or support that is no longer available.”

I would advise you to begin planning your company’s transition to Windows 10 now, well in advance of the 2020 deadline. The sooner you begin these plans the more time you will have to address issues while Windows 7 is still supported.

What do you need to do to prepare?

Upgrading to a new operating system takes time and careful planning, particularly if you have numerous machines and systems to assess. A smooth and successful transition to a new operating system requires you to:

  • Identify machines that need to be upgraded or replaced
  • Identify and consider replacing legacy systems using older operating systems and/or software with updated technology
  • Develop a timeline and budget for upgrades and replacements
  • Implement security controls to separate critical systems from Windows 7 machines that cannot be upgraded or removed
  • Plan for employee training to learn the new system

The Windows Product Life Cycle

All Windows products have a lifecycle, beginning with their release and ending with the end of life announcement.  Previously, these lifecycles terms could last between five to ten years, depending on the product. Normally this would include two maintenance periods: mainstream support and extended support. Mainstream support includes security patches as well as new features and often covers several years. Extended support begins once Microsoft is no longer actively developing the product, shifting instead to the release of updates to keep the product safe.  End of life is the point at which no further support will be extended.

With the introduction of Windows 10, however, Microsoft adopted a new policy for the sustainability and resilience of their products. This model is known as Windows as a Service (WaaS) and incorporates continuous updates and support for current product offerings, like Windows 10.

This is good news for business. From now on businesses using Windows 10 will remain updated with the latest patches and updates. There will be no requirement to upgrade to a new operating system, and there will be no need to be concerned about which one will be the most problematic to use. Windows as a Service (WaaS) will assure a smooth transition between iterations of a single operating system. It’s likely that Windows 10 will look entirely different in the future, but regular updates will take place to the software obviating the need for constant and major upheaval to business systems.

If you’d like help with the above together with more information about Windows 7 and the 2020 deadline please call me us on 0845 4 300 366.


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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Jul 2018

Here’s a clever new twist on an old email scam that could serve to make the con far more believable. The message purports to have been sent from a hacker who’s compromised your computer and used your webcam to record a video of you while you were watching porn. The missive threatens to release the video to all your contacts unless you pay a Bitcoin ransom. The new twist? The email now references a real password previously tied to the recipient’s email address.

The basic elements of this sextortion scam email have been around for some time, and usually the only thing that changes with this particular message is the Bitcoin address that frightened targets can use to pay the amount demanded. But this one begins with an unusual opening salvo:

“I’m aware that <substitute password formerly used by recipient here> is your password,” reads the salutation.

The rest is formulaic:

You don’t know me and you’re thinking why you received this e mail, right?

Well, I actually placed a malware on the porn website and guess what, you visited this web site to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching the video, your web browser acted as a RDP (Remote Desktop) and a keylogger which provided me access to your display screen and webcam. Right after that, my software gathered all your contacts from your Messenger, Facebook account, and email account.

What exactly did I do?

I made a split-screen video. First part recorded the video you were viewing (you’ve got a fine taste haha), and next part recorded your webcam (Yep! It’s you doing nasty things!).

What should you do?

Well, I believe, $1400 is a fair price for our little secret. You’ll make the payment via Bitcoin to the below address (if you don’t know this, search “how to buy bitcoin” in Google).

BTC Address: 1Dvd7Wb72JBTbAcfTrxSJCZZuf4tsT8V72
(It is cAsE sensitive, so copy and paste it)


You have 24 hours in order to make the payment. (I have an unique pixel within this email message, and right now I know that you have read this email). If I don’t get the payment, I will send your video to all of your contacts including relatives, coworkers, and so forth. Nonetheless, if I do get paid, I will erase the video immidiately. If you want evidence, reply with “Yes!” and I will send your video recording to your 5 friends. This is a non-negotiable offer, so don’t waste my time and yours by replying to this email.

KrebsOnSecurity heard from three different readers who received a similar email in the past 72 hours. In every case, the recipients said the password referenced in the email’s opening sentence was in fact a password they had previously used at an account online that was tied to their email address.

However, all three recipients said the password was close to ten years old, and that none of the passwords cited in the sextortion email they received had been used anytime on their current computers.

It is likely that this improved sextortion attempt is at least semi-automated: My guess is that the perpetrator has created some kind of script that draws directly from the usernames and passwords from a given data breach at a popular Web site that happened more than a decade ago, and that every victim who had their password compromised as part of that breach is getting this same email at the address used to sign up at that hacked Web site.

I suspect that as this scam gets refined even more, perpetrators will begin using more recent and relevant passwords — and perhaps other personal data that can be found online — to convince people that the hacking threat is real. That’s because there are a number of shady password lookup services online that index billions of usernames (i.e. email addresses) and passwords stolen in some of the biggest data breaches to date.

Alternatively, an industrious scammer could simply execute this scheme using a customer database from a freshly hacked Web site, emailing all users of that hacked site with a similar message and a current, working password. Tech support scammers also may begin latching onto this method as well.

Sextortion — even semi-automated scams like this one with no actual physical leverage to backstop the extortion demand — is a serious crime that can lead to devastating consequences for victims. Sextortion occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them with images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.

According to the FBI, here are some things you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

-Never send compromising images of yourself to anyone, no matter who they are — or who they say they are.
-Don’t open attachments from people you don’t know, and in general be wary of opening attachments even from those you do know.
-Turn off [and/or cover] any web cameras when you are not using them.

The FBI says in many sextortion cases, the perpetrator is an adult pretending to be a teenager, and you are just one of the many victims being targeted by the same person. If you believe you’re a victim of sextortion, or know someone else who is, the FBI wants to hear from you: Contact your local FBI office (or toll-free at 1-800-CALL-FBI).


Source: krebsonsecurity.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 30th Jul 2018

We've had a lot of phishing email recently reporting to customers that they've been hacked and to hand over their money.

It appears a campaign has been started which is using the data from various hacks around the internet (similar to the below)

Check out: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2018/07/sextortion-scam-uses-recipients-hacked-passwords/

and you can check which sites passwords have been exposed on at https://haveibeenpwned.com

Check it out!

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 25th Jul 2018


Daily Mail

The latest version of Chrome shows an alert next to web addresses

Security warnings will pop up on the Daily Mail website today if visitors are using the latest version of Google's Chrome browser.

It is one of many sites the browser will flag because they do not use HTTPS - the secure version of the web's underlying data transfer protocol.

Many sites have switched to this version to protect visitors against data theft and hijacking.

About 20% of the world's top 500 websites are using HTTP.

The HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) defines how data is passed around the web. The "S" in HTTPS stands for "Secure" and ensures that data is encrypted before it travels.

In the UK many other sites, such as Sky Sports, Argos and Boohoo have also not yet adopted HTTPS.

There is no evidence that any of the sites which have not made the change to HTTPS are currently subject to attacks that abuse insecure data.

Why does it say the sites are not secure?

Browser warnings

Many widely used sites are now flagged as "not secure" by Chrome

It's because they do nothing to scramble the data passing between you and that website.

According to statistics gathered by security researcher Troy Hunt, more than half of all the web's top one million sites have not flipped to HTTPS.

Mr Hunt has launched a site called WhyNoHTTPS? that lists the world's most popular websites that are not using it. The list draws on statistics gathered by British security researcher Scott Helme.

The Daily Mail tops his UK list as the busiest site to lack the protective measure.

Other big names on the list include Chinese messaging firm Tencent QQ, block-building game Roblox and sports broadcaster ESPN.

BBC image

Image captionThe BBC has not protected all its international sites with HTTPS

And while BBC News' pages do use HTTPS, some of the broadcaster's other sites have not implemented the measure, including its BBC America pages.

Why are these warnings appearing today?

It is not because anything on these sites has changed. It's because today is the day Google updated to Chrome 68 - which has been changed to flag HTTP-only sites.

Google began the process of warning people about sites that use HTTP in early 2017. Initially the "Not secure" warnings were only used on sites that collected passwords or credit cards. Firefox and Safari added similar systems about the same time.

Now all sites that have not switched will be flagged by Chrome. The other big browser makers are expected to follow soon.

Others - including governments - are joining the push for HTTPS. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre recently issued advice saying that all sites should use HTTPS.

In addition, the Let's Encrypt project aims to make it easy for small sites to adopt it by publishing easy-to-follow guides and tools that simplify the process.

Many news and sport websites do not use secure HTTPS connections

Is my data at risk?

Mr Hunt, and many other security experts, have demonstrated ways to hijack and redirect users if they only connect to a site via HTTP.

Without HTTPS, data is effectively broadcast as it travels back and forth across the web. There are circumstances that cyber-criminals can exploit to intercept that information, abuse it to steal data or insert their own code or malicious adverts.

It is not clear how many criminals are using these methods to fool users and steal data, but several successful campaigns have been spotted that use these techniques.

There is no suggestion that the sites currently only using HTTP are subject to attacks targeting insecure data.

Also, many sites are now rapidly adopting HTTPS as a result of a growing consensus around its use. Mr Hunt's list of insecure sites is regularly updated, but some sites on it, such as JustEat and Sage.com, have already adopted HTTPS.

Should I avoid sites that are flagged as not secure?

No, but you should be wary on those that require you to sign in or which let you buy goods and services through them.

To stay safe, pick a hard-to-guess password and ensure your browser and other software on your device are up to date. If there are other methods you can use to secure transactions, such as two-factor authentication, it could be well worth adopting them.

If you run your own website then it has got a lot easier to adopt the technology to help protect visitors.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 25th Jul 2018

Image result for lunar eclipse glastonbury

Britain will witness a spectacular and rare celestial spectacle this week. At dusk on Friday, the full moon will rise and reveal itself coloured a deep red. The nation will then experience a blood moon or, as astronomers term it, a total lunar eclipse.

And this week promises to be a special one, for it will be the longest-lasting total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. After it rises in the south-east – at around 8.50pm in London – the moon’s eclipse will continue until early on Saturday. “Weather permitting, it should give Friday evening a special, exciting edge,” said Sheila Kanani of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Blood moons have only recently been welcomed on Earth. Their deep red colour has usually been seen as an omen of terrible events. The Book of Joel in the Hebrew Bible warns that “the sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”

Today scientists have a more prosaic explanation for the moon’s crimson transformation. It is caused when the moon passes through the shadow of the Earth. However, its disc does not go completely dark because some sunlight – mainly the longer-wavelength, redder end of the spectrum – passes through our atmosphere and is bent around the edge of our planet so that it falls on to the moon’s surface. In effect, it is the light of sunrise and sunset on the Earth that will give the moon its red glow on Friday.

Unlike total solar eclipses, which occur when the moon’s disc passes in front of the sun and completely blots out sunlight for only a few minutes, a blood moon is a fairly leisurely affair. “It will last several hours – when you get a real feeling of the Earth and moon shifting in space,” said astronomer Tom Kerss, of the Royal Observatory Greenwich, which plans to stream live pictures of the event on Friday. “You get a true sense of the solar system moving – and that in itself is a really dramatic experience.”

For good measure, there is no need to wear goggles or filters to watch a blood moon as is necessary with solar eclipses. “It is safe to watch with the naked eye,” said Kerss. “You could use a telescope but, to be frank, it will be just as dramatic to watch it without aids as the red moon slowly rises in the sky over Britain and the shadow of the Earth passes from its surface.”

Source: theguardian.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 24th Jul 2018

"If voice is the future of computing, what about those who cannot speak or hear?"

That is the question posed by developer Abhishek Singh, the creator of an app that allows Amazon Alexa to respond to sign language.

Image result for amazon alexa

Mr Singh's project uses a camera-based system to identify gestures and interpret them as text and speech.

Future home devices should be designed to be inclusive for deaf users, the developer says.

he past few years have seen a rise in popularity of voice assistants run by Amazon, Google and Apple.

And a study by the Smart Audio Report suggests adoption of smart speakers has outstripped that of smartphones and tablets in the US.

But for the deaf community, a future where devices are increasingly controlled by voice poses problems.

Speech recognition is rarely able to pick up the rhythms of deaf users. And a lack of hearing presents a clear challenge to communicating with voice-based assistants.

Mr Singh's project offers one potential solution - rigging Amazon's Alexa to respond in text to American Sign Language (ASL).

"If these devices are to become a central way we interact with our homes or perform tasks, then some thought needs to be given to those who cannot hear or speak," he says.

"Seamless design needs to be inclusive in nature."

The developer trained an AI using the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, which involved repeatedly gesturing in front of a webcam to teach the system the basics of sign language.

Once the system was able to respond to his hand movements, he connected it to Google's text-to-speech software to read the corresponding words aloud.

The Amazon Echo reacts and its vocal response is automatically transcribed by the computer into text, which is read by the user.

As a solution, it is a workaround, with the laptop as an interpreter between the user and Alexa.

But, Mr Singh says: "There's no reason that Amazon Show, or any of the camera and screen based voice assistants, couldn't build this functionality right in," says the developer.

"To me that's probably the ultimate use case of what this prototype shows."

Proof of concept

There have been a number of previous attempts to use AI and image recognition to translate sign language.

Microsoft, for example, has trialled the use of its motion-sensing Kinect cameras for the purpose - a project fated to dwindle once the Kinect was discontinued in 2017.

Nvidia has also explored ways artificial intelligence could be used to automatically caption videos of sign language users, as has the translation software company KinTrans.

Microsoft has previously experimented with a Kinect-based sign language translator

A comprehensive way to automatically translate sign language into text or speech, and vice versa, has remained elusive, however.

Jeffrey Bigham, an expert in human-computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon University, says Mr Singh's project is "a great proof of concept" but a system fully capable of recognising sign language would be hard to design "as it requires both computer vision and language understanding that we don't yet have".

"Alexa doesn't really understand English either, of course," he adds, noting that voice assistants understand only a relatively small set of template phrases.

Aine Jackson, of the British Deaf Association, says that, with the increase in voice-assisted technologies, many developments are leaving deaf sign language users behind.

"Many of these technologies are shaping the world we live in and with exciting new capabilities there is now the scope for some really imaginative solutions to language access for deaf people."

She notes a number of similar projects, from sign language reading gloves to signing avatars, but also the difficulties in communicating the grammar of signed languages - conveyed not just by the hands but by body position and facial movements.

"We would encourage companies to take steps to make their technologies accessible for all, and congratulate individuals such as Abhishek Singh who are turning their minds to the matter," she adds.

Amazon has announced that, as of today, more Alexa users will have the option to turn on captions for Echo devices with a screen.

Alexa Captioning has previously been available for US owners of the Echo Show and Echo Spot. The company is now bringing the feature to users in the UK, as well as Germany, Japan, India, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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