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SolarCity to give Nest thermostats to 10,000 new customers in California

Written By kom nampuldu on Rabu, 15 April 2015 | 16.00

Smart thermostat maker Nest has plenty of experience helping utilities manage peak demand through its Rush Hour Rewards program, which involves pre-cooling participating homes in anticipation of an energy rush hour and throttling AC usage during such a period. This spares the utility company the high cost associated with bringing additional power plants online while earning the user a sweet reward. Nest now intends to wield similar magic on the generation side of the energy equation.

Rooftop solar installer SolarCity announced a partnership with Nest today in which it will give away 10,000 Nest Learning Thermostats to select, new customers in California. The campaign, announced in a blog post, requires that the customer have Nest-compatible central air-conditioning units.

It is pertinent to note here that Google has invested more than $580 million in SolarCity over the last five years, with the latest investment coming as recently as February.

SolarCity says its Nest partnership is aimed at helping users of its photovoltaic systems maximize energy savings, and will ultimately usher in an era where "SolarCity can regulate the home's air conditioner, pool pump and other appliances based on the availability of inexpensive, clean solar power."

The company outlined a scenario in which the Nest automatically shuts off the AC while you're at work, and begins pre-cooling the home using power from the PV array just as you're about to return. The idea is that this entire solar energy-based pre-cooling exercise will lessen your dependence on the grid during evenings—when demand peaks, but the PV system is offline—and deliver maximum energy savings.

Why this matters: The two companies are hinting that we could see much tighter integration between PV systems and smart-home products as a result of this partnership. That's why it appears to be a win-win situation for everyone involved: SolarCity, Google, and and their customers.

"This initial deployment will be the distributed project in the U.S. where we learn and implement new standards for what's possible and what is in the shared interests of customers, solar companies, utilities, and the grid," Nest Energy Products Director Ben Bixby told Utility Drive.

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Intel sales sag under PC slowdown

The PC business enjoyed a bit of a revival last year as companies replaced older systems running Windows XP. Those upgrades are mostly done now, and the slower market has hit Intel's financial results.

The chip maker reported first-quarter revenue of $12.8 billion on Tuesday, flat from the same quarter last year and a bit lower than financial analysts had been expecting, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters.

Intel blamed lower than expected sales of business PCs but said the decline was offset by strong sales of servers and other data center products. The company had already cut its forecast for the quarter last month.

Its profit for the quarter, ended March 28, was $2.0 billion, or $0.41 per share, both up slightly from last year and in line with expectations.

Intel is battling at least two problems at the moment: a gradual decline in the PC business and an inability to make much headway against chip-design company ARM in smartphones.

Intel used to break out the financial results from its division that sells smartphone and tablet chips; last year that group lost $4.2 billion.

It made a change last quarter and no longer breaks out those numbers, so it's hard to see how its low-power Atom chips are selling. Instead, Intel lumps them together with the group that makes laptop and desktop PC chips.

That combined division, called the Client Computing Group, reported revenue of $7.4 billion for the last quarter, down 8 percent year over year, Intel said.

Its Data Center Group, which sells Xeon server processors, did better. Revenue there was $3.7 billion, up 19 percent from last year. Its smaller Internet of Things division also did well.

The PC business hasn't been this bad for a while. Shipments tumbled to a six-year low last quarter, according to research firm IDC. Another research firm, Gartner, predicts a single-digit percentage decline for the full year.

The upgrades from XP, brought on by the end of support for that operating system last year, have slowed, and companies are now waiting for Windows 10 before making purchases, IDC said. The OS is expected toward the end of the year.

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Satechi joins the connected-home fray with a color-tunable bulb and smart plug

Bluetooth-enabled LED bulbs and smart plugs are coming out of the woodwork. San Diego-based Satechi is just the latest manufacturer to enter this emerging space. The firm, which sells a broad collection of PC, smartphone, and tablet accessories, launched the Spectrum IQ Bulb and the IQ Plug late last week.

We recently put half a dozen connected, color-tunable LED bulbs through their paces to see how they stacked up. The 8-Watt Spectrum IQ Bulb has a clear advantage over most of those products in at least one department: price. At $35, it is among the most affordable options on the market. The bulb can be controlled via Bluetooth using any Android or iOS device, which eliminates the need for a hub or bridge.

The accompanying mobile app allows you to turn the bulb on or off, alter its brightness, and change the color (up to 16 million colors to choose from). Although the company itself makes no mention of the bulb's lumens output, a couple of users over at Amazon reckon it's no brighter than a 40W incandescent. The IQ Bulb is rated for 25,000 hours of use.

Satechi IQ Plug Satechi

Bluetooth is mounting a serious challenge to the Z-Wave and ZigBee standards when it comes controlling home lighting.

The IQ Plug also has a $35 price tag, but is currently being sold at an introductory price of $30. Designed to fit into any standard AC power socket, it allows you to use your smartphone or tablet to turn whatever device is plugged into it on or off. You can also create schedules for the same. Satechi's app will also report on the power consumption of the device you plug into it, although you'll need to be within 49 feet of the device to control or monitor it.

The story behind the story: Smart luminaries and plugs are great entry points for anyone wanting to jump on the connected-home bandwagon. They are relatively inexpensive, remarkably foolproof, and clearly useful.

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Windows vulnerability can compromise credentials

Written By kom nampuldu on Selasa, 14 April 2015 | 16.00

A vulnerability found in the late 1990s in Microsoft Windows can still be used to steal login credentials, according to a security advisory released Monday.

A researcher with security vendor Cylance, Brian Wallace, found a new way to exploit a flaw originally found in 1997. Wallace wrote on Monday the flaw affects any PC, tablet or server running Windows and could compromise as many as 31 software programs.

He wrote the flaw was not resolved long ago, but that "we hope that our research will compel Microsoft to reconsider the vulnerabilities."

The vulnerability, called Redirect to SMB, can be exploited if an attacker can intercept communications with a Web server using a man-in-the-middle attack.

Windows or a program running on Windows can then be directed to communicate with a malicious SMB (server message block) server, which can then force an application to divulge the username, domain and hashed password of the person logged in, Wallace wrote.

Cylance disclosed its findings on Feb. 27 to the Computer Emergency Readiness Team at Carnegie Melon University, which issued an advisory.

CERT wrote that although the collected credentials are encrypted, attackers could try brute-force techniques—which involves trying to guess a password—until access is gained.

There are some mitigations. An attacker needs to be on the same network as a victim. It is also possible to block an attack by stopping outbound traffic on TCP ports 139 and 445, Wallace wrote.

Microsoft could not be immediately reached for comment.

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RadioShack presses ahead plan for sale of customer data

RadioShack will press on with its plan to sell its customer data, despite opposition from a number of U.S. states.

The company has asked a bankruptcy court for approval for a second auction of its assets, which includes the consumer data.

The state of Texas, which is leading the action by the states, has opposed the sale of personally identifiable information (PII), citing the online and in-store privacy policies of the bankrupt consumer electronics retailer.

The state claimed that it found from a RadioShack deposition that PII of 117 million customers could be involved. But it learned later from testimony in court that the number of customer files offered for sale might be reduced to around 67 million.

In the first round of sale, RadioShack sold about 1,700 stores to hedge fund Standard General, which entered into an agreement to set up 1,435 of these as co-branded stores with wireless operator Sprint. Some other assets were also sold in the auction.

The sale of customer data, including PII, was withdrawn from the previous auction, though RadioShack did not rule out that it could be put up for sale at a later date.

The case could have privacy implications for the tech industry as it could set a precedent, for example, for large Internet companies holding consumer data, if they happen to go bankrupt.

Texas has asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware for a case management order to ensure that in any motion for sale of the PII, RadioShack should be required to provide information on the kind of personal data that is up for sale and the number of customers that will be affected.

The state's Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the court in a filing to rule that any motion seeking the sale of the PII should specify whether the information is limited to only contact information, such as name, address, phone number, and email address, or whether it also includes other information such as credit card numbers or account history.

On Monday, Texas asked the court that its motion be heard ahead of RadioShack's motion for approval to auction more assets.

The court had ordered in March the appointment of a consumer privacy ombudsman in connection with the potential sale of the consumer data including PII. RadioShack said in a filing Friday that it intends to continue working with the ombudsman and the states with regard to any potential sale of PII, but did not provide details.

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Sharp develops 4K smartphone display, undecided on manufacturing plan

Sharp has developed a 5.5-inch display with 3860 x 2160 pixel resolution, which is equivalent to "ultra high definition," also known as 4K.

The prototype LCD display, which could be used in smartphones in the future, has a pixel density of 806 pixels per inch (ppi) and was shown off last week at the China Information Technology Expo in Shenzhen, China. It was part of a larger, 12.5-inch IGZO panel.

Sharp hasn't decided on a schedule for mass production yet. "Currently there are no driver ICs for small 4K panels, so the panel is not ready for mass production at this point," Sharp spokeswoman Miyuki Nakayama said via email.

The company wants to develop and mass-produce 4K screens for clients' phones but it's too early to say whether they will be used in Sharp's own Aquos line of smartphones, she added.

By comparison, Apple's iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch screen with 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution and a density of 401 ppi.

Sharp regularly exhibits cutting-edge display technology, and first brought its high-definition IGZO displays to smartphones in 2013, introducing pixels that were smaller than those in conventional LCD screens. IGZO is named for the indium gallium zinc oxide semiconductor technology developed by Sharp.

The company, however, has been trying to reform its struggling LCD business amid fierce competition from rival manufacturers in China and South Korea. It is expected to announce the results of a review of its medium-term management plan next month.

Japanese news media reported last week that the company is considering spinning off its small and mid-size LCD panels, used in smartphones and other mobile devices.

Over the past year, Sharp has turned out thin-bezel, high-def displays for its Aquos Crystal smartphone, as well as prototype 70-inch capacitive LCD panels that are sensitive enough to respond to brushstrokes.

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Pivotal sets the stage for open-source in-memory computing

Written By kom nampuldu on Senin, 13 April 2015 | 16.00

Following through on a promise to open-source its data analysis software, Pivotal has released the source code that powers its GemFire in-memory database.

Opening up the code could give enterprise customers more input into what new features are added into future versions. For Pivotal, the move provides an entry to those corporate clients that have adopted policies of using open-source software whenever possible, said Roman Shaposhnik, Pivotal's director of open source.

The company also hopes the software, released under the name Project Geode, will find a wider user base, one looking for big data analysis technologies speedier than Hadoop or Spark, Shaposhnik said.

Releasing the code is the first step in Pivotal's plan, formulated earlier this year, to open-source components of the company's Big Data Suite, which includes GemFire. Later this year, the company plans to release the code for its Pivotal Hawq SQL engine for Hadoop and the Pivotal Greenplum Database .

Not all of GemFire is being open-sourced. The company is holding back some advanced features for its commercial edition, such as the ability to stage continuous queries and establish wide-area network connectivity between clusters. Those who pay for the commercial edition will also receive enterprise-level support.

GemFire is distributed in-memory software, which provides a way to hold large amounts of data in the working memory of multiple servers, or nodes. GemFire can balance data across hundreds of nodes, potentially managing terabytes of data.

With this design, GemFire can provide enterprise applications with low-latency access to datasets that are too large to be crammed into the memory of a single server. The software provides all the reliability properties offered by traditional relational databases, which are commonly characterized as ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability). It includes fail-over capabilities, so the system will remain responsive should one or several individual nodes fail.

Independent software vendor GemStone developed GemFire more than a decade ago, and the code base has grown to more than 1 million lines of code. VMware acquired GemStone in 2010. The technology was transferred to Pivotal, a spin-off company created in 2013 to collect and integrate the growing collection of data analysis technologies owned by VMware and its parent company EMC.

GemFire was originally developed to power mission-critical applications in the financial industry and has been used for large-scale critical operations such as stock trading, financial payments, and ticket sales. Pivotal estimates the software is used to execute more than 10 million transactions a day.

GemFire is one of a number of in-memory databases on the market, said Curt Monash, head of IT analyst firm Monash Research. Alternatives include SAP's HANA, Tibco's ActiveSpace, and AeroSpike's and MemSQL's eponymous databases. Tachyon, the open-source memory-pooling software currently under development for Spark and Hadoop, may also interest enterprises, Monash said.

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FCC net neutrality rules published to Federal Register

The new net neutrality rule of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission was published over the weekend to the Federal Register, the daily journal of U.S. government actions, raising the possibility of a spate of lawsuits from broadband companies that oppose the rule.

The FCC decided in a 3-2 vote in February to reclassify broadband as a regulated public utility, by invoking Title II of the Communications Act, thus prohibiting providers from selectively blocking or throttling or offering paid prioritization of Internet traffic.

The new rules apply to both fixed and mobile broadband Internet access services. They aim to regulate both services on the lines of traditional telephone companies, which are required to deliver service at "just and reasonable" rates and interconnect with each other.

Before the regulation can go into effect, a final rule must first be published in the Federal Register. The new rule, referred to as the Open Internet Order, has Monday as the effective publication date and comes into effect on June 12. The FCC said in March, when it released the order, that it would become effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Broadband providers have said they stand for net neutrality principles but oppose the reclassification. Some of the providers are expected to challenge the order in court.

USTelecom (United States Telecom Association) and Internet provider Alamo Broadband filed in March lawsuits against the order, ahead of its publication in the Federal Register.

The association of broadband providers said it was filing the review petition "out of an abundance of caution" to meet the 10-day period provided for an appeal, just in case the FCC order or its declaratory ruling part was treated as final after it was released on March 12, the organization said in a filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If the court instead decides that the "trigger date" is 10 days after publication in the Federal Register, USTelecom said it would file an appeal at that time.

Promising a 'light-touch' regulatory framework, the FCC said it would "forbear" from a number of the provisions of Title II, rendering over 700 codified rules inapplicable. Referring to the agency's lack of "similar depth of background in the Internet traffic exchange context," as it has in last-mile broadband practices, the FCC said the order does not apply to back-end interconnection agreements among ISPs, backbone providers and Web services, but did not rule out regulating them in future.

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Sprint offers home delivery and setup of smartphones, tablets

Faced with a highly competitive market, U.S. wireless operator Sprint is now offering to deliver and set up phones, tablets and other connected devices for free at homes, offices and other locations chosen by the customer.

The offer is currently limited to eligible upgrade customers, but starting September, new customers in selected markets will be able to choose the new Direct 2 You option, when buying online or through call centers.

Launching in Kansas City metropolitan area on Monday, the program will be expanded across the country using about 5,000 branded cars and employing 5,000 staff by year end. A rollout in Miami and Chicago is scheduled for April 20.

Deliveries will however be confined to specific zones in the cities.

The bid by the carrier to bring "in-store experience" to homes and offices includes besides delivery of the phone, the set up the device by a Sprint-trained expert. The representative will transfer content from the earlier phone, and provide a tutorial and offer tips on the use of the new device.

The operator's representative will use the visit to also give a quote for the existing phone under the Sprint Buyback offer.

Sprint said it developed the service based on customer research and insights that indicated "the need for a revolutionary service like this one." Customers will be alerted to the offer to upgrade their phone by text or email.

The move by Sprint comes even as the company planned to set up 1,435 co-branded stores at RadioShack outlets over the weekend. The company said its aim is to help consumers get phones in the most convenient way. "If it's a personalized delivery—we can do that now. If it's about a great in-store service, we can provide that as well," according to a company FAQ. A Delaware bankruptcy judge approved a plan earlier this month to sell about 1,700 stores of the electronics retailer to hedge fund Standard General.

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Dead Synchronicity review: This surprisingly disturbing point-and-click adventure lacks catharsis

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 12 April 2015 | 16.01

"Dead Synchronicity is one of the most disturbing games I've ever played." I took a break from reviewing Dead Synchronicity to tweet that sentiment out the other day, and it's still the easiest way I've found to summarize the game. It's upsetting. It's psychological horror on a very real, unsettling level.

It's...a point-and-click adventure game. Yeah, not exactly the genre I expected to be deeply unsettled by. But it's true—Dead Synchronicity is horrifying.

Warning: Disturbing content follows.

You play the part of Michael—or at the very least, you think your name is Michael. You don't really know. You wake up in a trailer with amnesia, a condition that's become so normal you're referred to by your caretaker as a "blankhead," with sympathy rather than derision.

Dead Synchronicity

The world ended—not by way of nuclear weapons, or aliens, or epidemics, or any of the other means humanity tried to predict. Instead, an enormous gash opened up in the sky and entire cities were destroyed by what survivors are calling "The Great Wave." In the aftermath of the Great Wave, the military's moved in to re-establish order and prevent looting.

There's martial law. There are curfews. There are men with guns in the streets. Anyone caught outside after dark is shipped off to a prison "refugee" camp on the outskirts of town. This is where you, a man without a name, come in.

It's a bleak, albeit not wholly original, set-up. What makes Dead Synchronicity stand out is the fact that the game doesn't immediately scrap this intro tone and make you a freedom-fighter, hero for the oppressed. Instead, you're just a normal guy trying to survive and figure out what the hell happened to you—by whatever means necessary.

Dead Synchronicity

People tend to make a furor over games like Mortal Kombat or Postal 2 because they're violence-as-display. They're graphic. You can't help but wince as a muscle-bound dude takes two sharp knives to his eyeballs, for instance.

Taken in another light though, something like Mortal Kombat is absurd. It's watching cartoon characters fight—like watching an anvil fall on Wile E. Coyote and crush him flat. "Oof, that's gotta hurt," you say, but you know the character's coming back for the next sketch. It's silly!

Dead Synchronicity, by contrast, is understated in its violence. That's not to say it's never graphic. The art is often a glimpse into hell, such as the aptly-named "Suicide Park."

Dead Synchronicity

It reminds me a lot of Gerald Scarfe's animations for The Wall, to be honest:

But the art is surface-level horror. There's a deeper, more existential dismay to be found in Dead Synchronicity—a level of "Wait, you want me to do what to solve this puzzle?" Then you do whatever unspeakable thing the game wants you to do, and your character immediately starts scrutinizing his own actions. "Is a good deed is still good if done for the right reasons, regardless of if others are harmed in the fallout?" or to put it another way, "Do the ends justify the means?"

It's beginner's philosophy, for sure, but the bar is so low in video games that even something like Dead Synchronicity feels like an interesting exploration, especially since it's often your own actions that come under scrutiny. It's the same "Do you enjoy violence?" themes explored in Hotline Miami and Spec Ops: The Line without being quite as hamfisted about it.

Dead Synchronicity

Which makes it a shame I can't unabashedly recommend the game. I'm torn over Dead Synchronicity. I've spent the last week alternatively being awed by its story ambitions and hating playing it.

Key to my ire is the fact that this is a point-and-click adventure. Now, if you've read my reviews in the past you know I tend to fall on the side of "point-and-clicks are great because they have a lot of story flexibility, but the puzzles tend to be ridiculous."

In Dead Synchronicity, the puzzles are as apt to give you nightmares as the story. It's not that the puzzles are particularly unfair. In fact, Dead Synchronicity is better than most at sticking to logical, real-life uses for objects—pry open a door with a crowbar, or tie a rope around a tree to get down a steep hill.

Dead Synchronicity

That makes some of the failures in logic even more noticeable, though. For instance, midway through the game you'll remove a manhole grate from a sewer. Your character will only climb down partway though before saying something like, "I can't go down there without a light."

There's an oil lamp in the first room of the game. You cannot take this oil lamp. Your character flat-out refuses, and not because it's theft but because it would "make the room too dark." A room you have no intention of coming back to. A room with a door to the outside world, which light could shine through.

Or we can discuss prying open the door with the crowbar. The door in question is attached to an abandoned car with (as far as I can tell) no windows. Why do I need to pry the door open to get at the two items inside when I could just crawl through the window? Or, if there are windows, break them with a rock?

Dead Synchronicity

Dead Synchronicity also has a tendency to give you tunnel vision, whether on purpose or not. You'll find a camera, for instance. You know exactly where the camera needs to be used. You'll walk across six maps to get there and then..."There's no film in this camera." Are you kidding me? Okay. So you start looking for film.

The problem? You can't find film yet. You need to solve some other, less pressing puzzles first before you'll magically find the room that has the film in it. There's no indication of this though, so you're likely to start wandering in circles, convinced there must be film. It has to be here somewhere. I'm just not looking hard enough!

And all this—everything—would be sort of forgivable in the "Well, it's a point and click adventure" way, except that the game just ends partway through. This is the biggest sin of Dead Synchronicity, and it turned me from loving the game to feeling cheated by it.

Dead Synchronicity feels like it's all Act One. Your character (remember: he has amnesia) finally learns one tiny piece of what's going on in this world and...credits. There's no big climactic moment or catharsis. It's an enormous cliffhanger, and for me it only took about five hours to get there. I never knock a game's length, as long as it accomplishes what it's trying to accomplish. I don't think Dead Synchronicity does. It's just arbitrarily over.

Dead Synchronicity

The ending came so suddenly I literally emailed the developers asking if perhaps our review build was broken. Had they given us an extended demo build by accident? Nope, that was the ending. It's a real shame, because the game up to that point is extremely interesting. I just felt burned, like I'd invested a portion of myself into something only to have it yanked away.

I suspect the lack of a true resolution has to do with the fact this was a Kickstarter project—I could see a small studio running out of time/money and saying "We need to wrap this up." Regardless, it cheats what could've been one of my favorite point-and-clicks this year.

As I said, I'm mixed on Dead Synchronicity. I'd love to see more games take this sort of "adult" approach to point-and-clicks. The '90s had quite a few, a la I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and it's amazing how dark you can make what's typically seen as a family-friendly genre these days.

But those puzzles. But that ending. Those are the phrases that keep running through my brain, even as I mull over the positives. Knowing my own frustration, it makes it hard to recommend that experience to anyone else (let alone tack a score on the game).

My only hope is if you do pick up the game, you're suitably warned about its pitfalls. Maybe that will help you better appreciate what's there, without being blindsided by its failings.

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