Thursday, January 10, 2013

More Quilty Pleasures

This fabric will be winging its way to me shortly and I am ready to burst with anticipation.  It's a cotton, linen-y-feel Japanese print and I love the muted purples and greens.
I'll be pairing it with some unmatched strips of floral Liberty of London from the same color family to make another whole-cloth quilt.  There days I've been finding fabric that I cannot bear to cut, so whole-cloth quilting has been a revelation.
Is there anything better than planning and then making something? I think it's bliss . . .

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hands-on with the Razer Edge: A mid-range gaming PC stuffed in a tablet

The device now known as the Razer Edge has come a long way since it was first unveiled as "Project Fiona" at last year's CES. Back then, the Windows 7 tablet was permanently attached to a set of bulbous analog and button controllers that made it more of an oversized PC gaming handheld than a proper computing device. Now, the Edge is a low- to mid-range Windows 8 gaming PC that just happens to be packed into a multitouch tablet form factor.

Let's start with the specs. The Razer Edge, currently planned for release sometime this quarter, will come in two configurations. The $999 base model features an Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia GT640M LE GPU, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 64GB SSD. The $1,299 Razer Edge Pro upgrades the internals to include an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 128GB SSD (which can be expanded to 256GB at purchase time).

The Edge tablet is about twice as thick as an iPad, but it's only 25 percent heavier than Apple's ubiquitous tablet. The net effect is a device that is remarkably light for its 10.1-inch screen size and internal specs, and one that seems easy to hold with one hand while controlling it with the other. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan told Ars that those specs were the result of a year of crowdsourcing to find out what level of power gamers wanted in a gaming PC at the $1,000 price point, and the company focused on keeping the device as thin and light as possible. That compact form factor does have one noticeable downside compared to most gaming laptops or PC towers, though: you can't open up the back to upgrade individual components as they start to become outdated.

One of the biggest selling points Razer stressed in our meeting was that the Edge wasn't trying to remake the gaming landscape on tablets by using a mobile OS like Android. This is a full Windows 8 tablet that can run any standard PC game and handle services like Steam just fine. It's also usable as a general purpose tablet, with zippy access to things like e-mail and Web browsing using the touch interface. In our hands-on tests, the tablet was more than capable of running games like Dishonoredand Dirt with mid-level details at very smooth frame rates on the 1366×768 display. The back of the tablet got noticeably hot as the fans worked to clear out processor heat while running high-end games, but the effect wasn't unbearable in our quick test. This is not a scaled-down gaming computer in a tablet. It's an actual gaming computer in a tablet.

Games like Civilization can be played entirely with the multitouch screen, but for most PC games you're going to need some external controls. The buttons and analog sticks that were attached to Project Fiona a year ago have been adapted into a $249 tablet sleeve, with a full array of analog sticks and face and shoulder buttons to the side of the screen (there's even an extra shoulder button that brings up the Steam menu directly from inside games).
The buttons and joysticks felt well-made and suitably responsive in my hands, and the holster sports some rather hefty force feedback and a nice design that redirects the speaker output to point directly at your face. The main downside, besides the price, is the immense weight of the thing, which transforms the easy-to-hold tablet into a device that is uncomfortable to hold up in front of you even with a firm two-hand grip. The whole setup seems tolerable when resting on your lap, but just barely. Plugging in a standard USB gamepad is probably a more workable solution.

The Edge is also fully compatible with standard mouse and keyboard controls, either through a built-in USB slot or connected via Bluetooth. Razer was showing off a prototype case that props the tablet up in front of a gaming keyboard, making the whole thing look a lot more like a laptop, but the company isn't planning on releasing such a product until the third quarter of 2013.

You can also hook the Edge up to a TV using an optional $99 dock that gives the tablet HDMI output as well as extra USB slots. Tan said he envisioned this for use in dorm rooms, where people could just plug the tablet in next to the TV for group gaming, then take it with them for use as a tablet or gaming PC. When projected onto a big-screen TV, the games I saw in the demo looked a bit worse than they did on the Edge's built-in display, with noticeable jagged edges on cars and characters. Tan said he wasn't sure whether the tablet was capable of higher resolutions when displaying to an external TV rather than the built-in display.
Based on my brief time with the Edge, I could see it as a more-than-decent solution for a gamer looking for a mid-range gaming laptop that's also usable as a general tablet. Customers who already have either of those two devices, though, could probably get more bang for their buck by just buying a dedicated gadget to serve their remaining needs (though having to lug around two devices for the dual purposes is a little less convenient). As the components needed to power a decent PC gaming rig get smaller, we'd love to see this idea continue to be refined to the point where a low-cost, portable gaming PC isn't presumed to have a keyboard attached.

You can't hide from quantum radar

Radar is, broadly speaking, the standard way to recognize and identify incoming objects. Aircraft and ships usually broadcast a signal that identifies them anyway, but even in the absence of that signal, you still want to ensure that you accurately identify passing aircraft—and not by the wreckage they leave after you have shot them down.

This is also critical because the approaching aircraft could broadcast a signature that makes it look innocent when, in fact, it isn't. This form of sophisticated jamming would be very difficult to detect using a standard radar system. When you add the magic of quantum, however, life suddenly becomes a lot harder for the jammer.
The nice thing about an imaging radar system is that you can get the speed, direction, and the shape of the object from different aspects of the signal. The doppler shift on the radar signal gives you speed, the time between sending a pulse and receiving the scattered radiation at your detector gives you distance. The signal intensity from several detectors allows you to create an image. And repeated measurements tell you where the object is going as well as the speed again.
But, since radar is an active signal, it is possible to calculate a pattern of signals to send from the target to make it appear like something it's not. A plane equipped with the right transmitters could spoof its identity via radar. The ideal solution to this would be for the radar transmitter to tag each photon of microwave energy so that the it can verify that the radiation it detects comes from its transmitter. And this is exactly what a group from University of Rochester claims to have done (but hasn't).
What they noted is that a quantum key distribution system offers a way to analyze the statistics of detected photons and determine if they came from the intended source. The key to the security comes from the nature of a quantum measurement. In a classical measurement, you ask questions like "How long is that table?" and get an answer. In quantum mechanics, measurements don't work that way. Instead you ask the question "Is the table 1.60m long?" and the answer is either "yes" or "no."

The same holds for polarization. You place a polarization sensitive mirror in the path of the light. The mirror reflects horizontally polarized photons and transmits vertically polarized photons. This measurement can only report that the photons are vertically or horizontally polarized, even if they have an entirely different polarization, such as 45°. And, no matter what orientation the photon is, the detector will always provide a horizontal or vertical answer.
Now consider this from the perspective of someone who wants to jam a radar system. They want to detect the incoming photons and broadcast new ones so that they show incorrect radar information. But, if they're trying to match the polarization, they have to choosewhat measurement to make on the incoming photons. And, no matter what choice they make, they will always get an answer, even though it may be entirely wrong. As a consequence, their jamming signal will almost certainly contain enough photons with the wrong polarization to make it easily detectable.
Every photon transmitted by the radar unit is polarized either along the vertical/horizontal direction, or along the two diagonals (diagonal and anti-diagonal). This choice of which orientation is used is randomized for each photon. The jammer has a 50 percent chance of choosing the right polarization orientation. If they choose correctly, the photon that they send back will be indistinguishable from the one sent from the radar system.
Now, let's say the jammer chooses to measure diagonally when the sender is sending horizontally polarized photons. The photon will be detected as either diagonal and anti-diagonal with 50 percent probability. The jammer duly resends whichever polarization the detector told it to, with incorrect image information.
Meanwhile, the detector on the radar unit knows that the photon should be horizontal and is set up accordingly. The jammer has sent a photon that is actually in one of the diagonal states. Once again, even though it's diagonally polarized, the photon will be detected as either vertical or horizontal. Half the time, the photon is measured to be vertically oriented, which reveals the presence of the jammer.
The upshot is that 25 percent of the time, the radar unit receives a photon with the wrong polarization. (The jammer makes the wrong choice half the time, and the photon goes the wrong direction in the receiver's detector half the time—combined, they account for the 25 percent.) Such a high error rate is clearly observable compared to imaging without the jammer.
And, it works, of course. The researchers showed that they could tell the difference between jammed images and unjammed images very easily. And polarization is an ideal choice because it is not used for other aspects of radar, so the verification scheme does not get in the way of the radar measurements.
But we're apparently not ready for a jam-proof radar. The team did this with lasers rather than an actual radar system. Why? Well, they wanted a proof-of-principle* demonstration and they are an optics group. There is also the limitation that, although you know you are being jammed, you still end up with the image that the jammer projects. So, you still have no idea what is out there or where, but at least you know not to trust your radar image.
I am very skeptical that this will ever see the light of day outside of the lab. You would need a single photon source, and even with efficient single photon sources and detectors, there would be problems. On reflection from a 3D object, the polarization of the photon will be altered. What's more, that change will be different for every photon, since the object will be moving and changing orientation.
It is certainly possible that the changes are small enough that the error rate doesn't reach the 25 percent threshold—but if these reflections increase the error rate to 25 percent, then the real object would be indistinguishable from the jammer's projected object.
Still, the entire world of science is devoted to proving curmudgeons like me wrong and I look forward to that happening again.
*Proof-of-principle is science code for "we don't have a clue how to do this in any useful context, so we will do something useless and pretend that the rest is easy."

$17,000 Linux-powered rifle brings “auto-aim” to the real world

CES is about technology of all kinds; while we're busy covering cameras, TVs, and CPUs, there's a huge number of products that fall outside our normal coverage. Austin-based startup TrackingPoint isn't typical Ars fare, but its use of technology to enable getting just the perfect shot was intriguing enough to get me to stop by and take a look at the company's products.
TrackingPoint makes "Precision Guided Firearms, or "PGFs," which are a series of three heavily customized hunting rifles, ranging from a .300 Winchester Magnum with a 22-inch barrel up to a .338 Lapua Magnum with 27-inch barrel, all fitted with advanced computerized scopes that look like something directly out of The Terminator. Indeed, the comparison to that movie is somewhat apt, because looking through the scope of a Precision Guided Firearm presents you with a collection of data points and numbers, all designed to get a bullet directly from point A to point B.

The PGF isn't just a fancy scope on top of a rifle. All together, the PGF is made up of a firearm, a modified trigger mechanism with variable weighting, the computerized digital tracking scope, and hand-loaded match grade rounds (which you need to purchase from TrackingPoint). This is a little like selling both the razor and the razor blades, but the rounds must be manufactured to tight tolerances since precise guidance of a round to a target by the rifle's computer requires that the round perform within known boundaries.

The image displayed on the scope isn't a direct visual, but rather a video image taken through the scope's objective lens. The Linux-powered scope produces a display that looks something like the heads-up display you'd see sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet, showing the weapon's compass orientation, cant, and incline. To shoot at something, you first "mark" it using a button near the trigger. Marking a target illuminates it with the tracking scope's built-in laser, and the target gains a pip in the scope's display. When a target is marked, the tracking scope takes into account the range of the target, the ambient temperature and humidity, the age of the barrel, and a whole boatload of other parameters. It quickly reorients the display so the crosshairs in the center accurately show where the round will go.
Image recognition routines keep the pip stuck to the marked target in the scope's field of view, and at that point, you squeeze the trigger. This doesn't fire the weapon; rather, the reticle goes from blue to red, and while keeping the trigger held down, you position the reticle over the marked target's pip. As soon as they coincide, the rifle fires.

TrackingPoint is quick to emphasize the rifle doesn't fire "by itself," but rather the trigger's pull force is dynamically raised to be very high until the reticle and pip coincide, at which point the pull force is reset to its default. In this way, the shooter is still in control of the rifle's firing, and at any point prior to firing you can release the trigger. In the mockups the company had on display for the press to experiment with, the action appeared to be the same—I pulled the trigger and lined up the dots and the blue plastic toy gun went click.

Having the round fire when the shot is lined up rather than in immediate response to a trigger pull eliminates a tremendous amount of uncertainty from the shot. Even the most experienced shooters can upset a weapon's aim when pulling the trigger, and overcoming the reflex to twitch or preemptively move against a weapon's recoil is very, very difficult. By allowing the computer to choose the precise moment to take the shot, accuracy is greatly enhanced.
Putting lead accurately on targets is only part of what TrackingPoint's PGF system does. The computerized tracking scope contains some amount of nonvolatile storage, and like an airplane's "black box," it's constantly recording the visual feed from the optics. It also contains a small Wi-Fi server, and TrackingPoint offers an iOS app that connects to the scope via an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network and streams the scope's display to the app, allowing someone with an iPad or iPhone to act as a spotter. TrackingPoint notes that for novice hunters, having the ability to duplicate the scope's picture onto an external display makes it a lot easier for an experienced spotter to give advice on how and when to shoot.

There's a social media aspect, too—the scope's video recordings can be uploaded to video sharing sites like YouTube. Rather than bragging to buddies about that amazing 1000-yard shot you took at the range or out in the field last week, you can simply show them, complete with all the heads-up display data about conditions and range.
TrackingPoint had one actual rifle on display in the press room, along with several mock-ups equipped with iPhones in place of scopes. The iPhones were running a simulated version of the TrackingPoint scope software, letting demo users line up their shots on polygonal deer and hogs in a landscape much like popular hunting video games. It felt a bit like playing with an "easy mode" cheat turned on, though, as it was nearly impossible to miss, even at tremendous distances. TrackingPoint is considering selling the demo software as a standalone hunting app, though from my brief experience with it, there wasn't a whole lot of challenge to felling game once you had the mark-and-fire procedure worked out.
This might not make a compelling video game, but it certainly does make for an accurate weapon system. TrackingPoint says the "first shot success probability"—that is, a shooter's ability to successfully land a round on target in a single try—is drastically increased. The TrackingPoint representatives present brought this up when I commented on the necessity of buying (more expensive) ammunition directly from TrackingPoint rather than buying or loading one's own rounds. TrackingPoint contends the ability to be drastically more precise with aiming means fewer rounds have to be fired for the same effect, ultimately saving money.

I asked about potential military applications, since they are obvious, but TrackingPoint was quick to downplay involvement with the Department of Defense. The "connected shooter" goal of the PGF system in many ways lines up with the Army's limping, on-again-off-again Land Warrior program. However, the very nature of the government contract and procurement process ensures that any technology developed for military use must go through an incredibly lengthy and convoluted development process, meeting shifting and sometimes outdated design goals along the way. TrackingPoint said that its goal is to produce the technology first, and then find the market and applications once it actually had something ready to go—and this is what it has done.
The company is also keenly aware of the potential negative public perception right now around firearms and firearm manufactures, in the wake of recent mass-shooting events like the ones inSandy Hook and Aurora. The three models of PGF are bolt-action hunting rifles, unwieldy for any kind of close-quarters work; the tracking system itself requires patience and care to line up and fire, and it doesn't appear at all to be the kind of thing a mass-shooter would employ. At this time, TrackingPoint indicated that it has no intention of producing a PGF system for anything other than bolt-action rifles.
Hunting is a controversial pastime, but it's an undeniably popular one, and TrackingPoint is dialed in very well at its target market. The price is relatively high—the rifles start at about $17,000 (a price which includes an iPad with the TrackingPoint app pre-configured and ready to go), but that isn't a huge premium over parting together one's own rifle and precision optics.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Vídeo promocional de Queen’s Blade: Vanquised Queens

Desde Hobby Japan han colgado en la web oficial de la franquicia Queen’s Blade un vídeo promocional para Vanquised Queens, la última entrega por el momento del anime.
El libro de 2011 que adaptará esta entrega está compuesto de historias cortas en las que varias de las protagonistas de Queen’s Blade son derrotadas en batalla. Serán dos OVAs que se incluirán con los dos nuevos Queen’s Blade Premium Visual Books en marzo y junio.
La historia de Vanquished Queens no será una continuación directa de las series de televisión.

Fuente: ANN.

Nuevos mangas en la revista Manga Town de Futabasha

Las mangakas Meme Higashiya (Recorder to Randoseru) y Uzu (Shiba Inuko-san) han estrenado sendos nuevos mangas en el número de febrero de la revista Manga Town de Futabasha.
Higashiya ha estrenado Oshikake-ji Jime, historia que sigue a una príncesa de la conocida Era Sengoku japonesa que viaja en el tiempo hasta el futuro y acaba viviendo con un chico de instituto. La autora sigue publicando su Recorder to Randoseru en la Manga Life Original de Takeshobo.
Uzu ha publicado Kigurumekurumi! está protagonizado por una chica de instituto muy tímida que solo puede comunicarse con los demás cuando va disfrazada como alguna mascota.
El número de febrero de la Manga Town también ha estrenado el manga Taisho Otome Karute de Miyu Nohiro sobre una mujer que aspira a convertirse en doctora en la Era Taisho japonesa (1912-1926).
El próximo número de la revista también estrenará el manga Tenshin Ran Man! colaborativo entre la seiyuu y cantante Ari Yunohara y el cómico Seitaro Mukai del dúo cómico Tenshin. Mukai aparece como responsable del concepto original y Yunohara será quien se encargue de los dibujos.

Fuente: BW, ANN.

Vídeo corto de “W: Wonder Tales”, el nuevo single de Yukari Tamura y ending de Oreshura

Desde King Records han colgado en su canal de YouTube el vídeo corto del tema “W: Wonder Tales“, el single número 22 de la seiyuu y cantante Yukari Tamura. El tema es el ending del anime Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru, Oreshura, estrenado esta temporada de invierno. La seiyuu también pone voz a un personaje de la serie, Masuzu Natsukawa.
El CD del single se pondrá a la venta en Japón el 6 de febrero.

Fuente: Crunchyroll.