Was your Facebook data shared with Cambridge Analytica? The political research firm harvested the personal information of roughly 87 million people to target American voters, using a personality quiz called “This Is Your Digital Life” that scraped the Facebook data of you and your friends. The social network recently started notifying users who had their information scooped up.
If you haven’t seen the prompt in your News Feed, you can check if your Facebook data was shared with Cambridge Analytica by logging into the network and visiting this help page. The section titled “Was my information shared?” explains whether your or your friends ever logged into the nefarious quiz, though it won’t name which friends handed over your data to the app.
While you’re at it, take the time to look over the other apps that you’ve granted access to your Facebook account, and disable any ones you no longer need. The Cambridge Analytica saga drives home how crucial it is to keep close rein on apps that hook into your social media accounts. Securing your personal data is more complicated than just running an antivirus suite and using a password manager to come up with unique logins for every site. This revelation sparked big changes in the way Facebook handles third-party apps, including the launch of a new data abuse bounty, but it’s better to be proactive on your end.
Gartner blames longer refresh cycles, higher component costs, and China.
Global PC shipments fell by 1.4% in the first quarter of 2018, representing the 14th consecutive quarter of decline dating back to 2012, amid rising costs and longer refresh cycles.
Sales for the first quarter of 2018 totalled 61.7 million units according to Gartner’s figures, with China recording the most significant decline of 5.7%. Shipments declined by 3.9% in Asia/Pacific, and by 2.9% in the US.
Meanwhile, PC shipments in other regions saw minimal growth – with a rise of 1.7% in EMEA due in part to the fast-approaching compliance deadline for GDPR alongside a greater priority afforded to security encouraging organisations to refresh their hardware.
Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, said the global decline, measured against Q1 2017, may be tied with inventory carry-over from 2017 and caution among vendors wary of overstocking ahead of new models being released later 2018 as well as Intel’s new eighth-generation core processors.
On the drastic decline in China, Kitagawa explained: “This was driven by China’s business market, where some state-owned and large enterprises postponed new purchases or upgrades, awaiting new policies and officials’ reassignments after the session of the National People’s Congress in early March.”
The largest three vendors Dell, Lenovo and HP grew their share of the market from 54.4% in Q1 2017 to 56.9% in 2018 – with Dell, although marginally behind its competitors, experiencing the strongest growth rate among the top six, of 6.5%.
Meanwhile, Gartner also pointed to a price spike in PCs, attributing it to a shortage of components coupled with rising costs of materials, with suppliers still cautious about expanding their production capabilities amid deceleration in the smartphone market and uncertainty in PC replacement demand, according to the research firm.
Kitagawa continued: “In contrast to other DRAM-related price spikes, PC vendors are not reacting by reducing DRAM content. Rather they have passed the cost increase to consumers. With fewer people buying new machines, manufacturers need to get the highest profit margin from each sale. To do that, they are raising the selling points and focusing on customer experience or perception of value.”
The figures, comprising shipments of desktop PCs, notebook PCs and ultramobile premiums, such as Microsoft Surface, didn’t include Chromebooks or iPads.
Gartner’s Worldwide IT spending report last week found that devices overall are set to grow by 6.6% in 2018, though people are holding onto their devices for longer, so the growth comes mainly from higher price points.
“PCs are declining because they’re lasting longer,” John-David Lovelock, distinguished analyst at Gartner, told us. “We’re in that refreshing cycle [now] but further out it’s back to decline. Windows 10 put a lot of life back into Windows 7 PCs but that’s kind of over now and so we’re back in that [longer] refresh cycle again.”
A researcher who created a fake video of President Obama has defended his invention at the latest TED talks.
The clip shows a computer-generated version of the former US leader mapped to fit an audio recording. Experts have warned the tech involved could spark a “political crisis”.
Dr Supasorn Suwajanakorn acknowledged that there was a “potential for misuse”.
But, at the Vancouver event, he added the tech could be a force for good.
The computer engineer is now employed by Google’s Brain division. He is also working on a tool to detect fake videos and photos on behalf of the AI Foundation.
Dr Suwajanakon, along with colleagues Steven Seitz and Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman from the University of Washington, released a paper in July 2017 describing how they created the fake Obama.
They developed an algorithm that took audio and transposed it on to a 3D model of the president’s face.
The task was completed by a neural network, using 14 hours of Obama speeches and layering that data on top of a basic mouth shape.
Dr Suwajanakorn acknowledged that “fake videos can do a lot of damage” and needed an ethical framework.
“The reaction to our work was quite mixed. People, such as graphic designers, thought it was a great tool. But it was also very scary for other people,” he told the BBC.
It could offer history students the chance to meet and interview Holocaust victims, he said. Another example would be to let people create avatars of dead relatives.
Experts remain concerned that the technology could create new types of propaganda and false reports.
“Fake news tends to spread faster than real news as it is both novel and confirms existing biases,” said Dr Bernie Hogan, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute.
“Seeing someone make fake news with real voices and faces, as seen in the recent issue about deepfakes, will likely lead to a political crisis with associated calls to regulate the technology.”
Deepfakes refers to the recent controversy over an easy-to-use software tool that scans photographs and then uses them to substitute one person’s features with another. It has been used to create hundreds of pornographic video clips featuring celebrities’ faces.
Dr Suwajanakorn said that while fake videos were a new phenomenon, it was relatively easy to detect forgeries.
“Fake videos are easier to verify that fake photos because it is hard to make all the frames in video perfect,” he told the BBC.
“Teeth and tongues are hard to model and could take another decade,” he added.
The researcher also questioned whether it made sense for fake news creators to make complex videos “when they can just write fake stories”.
Plex isn’t the easiest way to record live broadcast TV, but it is the most versatile.
As a whole-home DVR for cord-cutters, Plex’s software and subscription service ticks almost all the requisite boxes, including full broadcast TV quality, lots of ways to manage recordings, and broad device support. It also lets you stack multiple tuners to record many programs simultaneously, and even includes a powerful ad-skipping feature—in beta, but still functional—that most other DVRs lack.
But compared to other solutions like Tablo and TiVo, you’ll need to assemble and manage more hardware on your own, and the results aren’t always as seamless. For those reasons, Plex DVR still feels like a solution for power users, rather than the best DVR for everyone.
Choose your DVR adventure…
Plex DVR requires a subscription to Plex Pass, which costs $5 per month, $40 per year, or $120 for lifetime service. To set it up, you can take a range of approaches, from simple to intimidating.
The path of least resistance is to pair an Nvidia Shield TV streaming box ($200) with a compatible USB antenna tuner such as the Hauppauge WinTV-Dual-HD. Plug an antenna into the tuner, then connect an external hard drive to the box’s other USB slot, and Plex’s Media Server software for Shield will handle the recordings. You can then watch live and recorded TV on the Shield itself, or stream it over Wi-Fi to the Plex app on other devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Android TV devices, Apple Roku, Xbox One, iOS, Android, and the web.
If you don’t have great antenna reception near your Shield, you can skip the USB tuner and instead connect an HDHomeRun networked tuner (the dual-tuner model costsabout $80 on Amazon) to your wireless router, which feeds over-the-air broadcasts to the Shield via Wi-Fi. (You needn’t splurge on HDHomeRun’s pricier Extend tuners, either, since Plex performs its own transcoding to reduce bandwidth requirements and file sizes.)
The Shield isn’t even necessary if you have a desktop computer or NAS box on which to run Plex Media Server. Just plug a USB tuner into your PC, or connect an HDHomeRun to your router to get started, and you can stream broadcast TV to any other device running the Plex app.
The nice thing about Plex’s approach is how extensible it is. Want to record more shows at a time? Just plug in a second tuner. Run out of storage space? Just plug in second hard drive or move your recordings to a larger one. You can even store recordings on a hard drive connected to your router’s USB port, so that anyone at home can use the drive’s spare storage for other purposes.
The inherent trade-off is that this isn’t quite a plug-and-play solution. You must gather all the hardware components on your own, then install Plex’s Media Server software on the device that’s doing the recording, then head to a web browser to walk through the guided setup process.
The need to connect third-party hardware also introduces more room for hard-to-explain errors. While testing Plex, for instance, I encountered an issue where Android TV’s Live Channels app was quietly using up tuners for no apparent reason. It took me weeks to diagnose the problem, and I ultimately had to disable the app to prevent further issues. While Plex isn’t technically at fault, this isn’t something that would happen with a controlled DVR system such as Tablo or TiVo.
…But choose wisely
The other issue with Plex is that your experience can vary depending on your choice of hardware.
On the server side, the Shield has only a couple of USB ports, limiting your ability to add more storage, tuners, or other accessories such as game controllers. (I couldn’t get the device to recognize my USB tuner when it was connected to an external USB hub.) Plex also notes that in most cases, the Shield can only transcode two or three videos simultaneously. For maximum flexibility, a desktop PC or NAS box are still your best options.
The device you use to stream from Plex also makes a difference. If you’re a stickler for smooth video, for instance, you’ll want an Nvidia Shield TV, since its video player has a double de-interlacer that plays 480i and 1080i channels at 60 frames per second. On other devices I’ve tested, interlaced channels get choked back to 30 frames per second. (In theory, Plex could fix this by building a custom video player for other devices, like the Channels app has done on Apple TV.)
Among the Shield’s other advantages: It’s the only device with a picture-in-picture mode that lets you play games or browse other apps while watching broadcast TV, and it’s the only one whose recordings appear in system-wide voice search (in this case, from Google Assistant). Android-based devices such as the Shield are also the only ones that support watching and recording a channel on a single tuner, so you needn’t burn a second tuner slot just to view a recording in progress.
On the other hand, Plex’s Android TV app, which the Shield uses, is harder to navigate than Plex’s apps on Roku and Apple TV. The live TV menu is buried a half-dozen rows into the interface, and it doesn’t display network names or let you click into a separate “Watch Now” menu. And unlike Plex’s other apps, the Android TV version doesn’t list channel numbers.
What makes Plex worthwhile—aside from its extensibility—is the amount of control it gives you over recordings.
For any given TV show, you can filter out reruns, add start and stop buffer times, filter out standard definition channels, automatically replace SD recordings with high-definition ones, limit recordings to a specific channel, automatically delete old episodes (either by date or number of newer recordings), and delete old episodes after watching them. It’s easy to find things to record as well, with separate menus for movies, shows, news, and sports, and multiple filtering options within each.
Plex also supports out-of-home streaming for live and recorded TV, and you can sync any recording to your devices for offline viewing. Your recordings aren’t perpetually locked into Plex’s system either. Recordings are unprotected in .TS format, so you can use them with other media server programs or transfer them onto other devices manually.
The best feature of all, though, is automatic ad removal, which uses some post-processing to delete commercial breaks from the actual video file. While Plex’s ad-stripper sometimes leaves bits of commercials intact, I’ve yet to encounter a cutoff of any actual show content, and it’s always satisfying to see an hour-long recording trimmed down by about 15 minutes. (If you’re nervous about losing material, you can set ad removal on or off by default, and enable or disable it on a per-program basis.)
Still, Plex does have some limitations. Most notably, none of its apps offer a grid-based channel guide like TiVo, Tablo, Emby, and Channels do. Instead, Plex tries to offer some guide-line menu rows, such as “On right now,” “Starting soon,” and “New Episodes tonight.” This just doesn’t feel as straightforward as a traditional grid. Plex’s ability to record live sports is also lacking, with no way to record specific teams.
Because of those limitations, the somewhat daunting setup process, and the inconsistencies between its various apps, Plex is not a solution I’d suggest to everyone. (That honor still goes to Tablo.) But for power users who don’t mind fiddling with their cord-cutting setups, Plex’s combination of video and audio quality, granular recording controls, and extensibility is as good as it gets.
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LIFX’s Beam kit is a little different from its previous smart lights. Beam isn’t designed to light a room like a traditional bulb – it’s mainly for aesthetics.
And if you want your home to look like a nightclub or a spaceship, this rather pricey kit will do the job well.
Unlike the LIFX Z LED strips, which are typically stuck to a surface that’s hidden from view, Beam sticks to a wall or any flat vertical surface where it’s on full display for all to see.
Price & Availability
The kit costs £199.99/US$199.99. That includes six ‘Beams’ and one corner piece. LIFX says the controller can support an extra two Beams and a second corner, but these aren’t yet available to buy separate from the kit yet and we don’t yet know how much they’ll cost.
Each Beam is 300mm long and connects to another using magnets and pogo pins. The magnets not only ensure a better connection, but their polarity also means it’s impossible to arrange them the wrong way round.
With just one corner, you’re limited to L- or T-shape designs and LIFX says that Beam is intended to highlight structural features such as a door or window frame.
On the rear are 3M Command Strips: very sticky pads. These attach to the Beams themselves with hook-and-loop so they can be removed from your wall and replaced.
It means installing the kit is surprisingly easy and requires no tools or drilling. However, what’s hidden in all the lovely photography of Beam on LIFX’s website is the power cable.
You’ll need to route the cable so it magnetically attaches to one end of the strip, but because of those magnets, it will only connect to one end. This is why it’s crucial to build your design on the floor first before you do sticking the pieces on the wall.
Fortunately, the connector works in both directions, so the cable can run right or left depending on which way you need it to go. It does need to run at 90° to the Beam, though, which may not be what you want. It would be nice to have an adapter so the cable could continue in line so you can route it down the side of your door frame, for example.
Once installed, the Beam behaves almost exactly like a LIFX strip, even down to pressing the ‘hidden’ button on the controller box for 1-2 seconds after you’ve added more Beams, or rearranged them, so they’re detected.
And like most other LIFX bulbs, you can choose between vibrant colours, pastels and various shades of white.
The white plastic acts as a diffuser so you can’t see the LEDs inside. The output isn’t completely even, though, and you can notice a very slight dim line where each section joins to another – a very minor point, but perfectionists won’t like it.
We’re big fans of the LIFX app. In general it’s well designed and allows you to control multiple lights with ease. Adding the Beam didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped, though.
First, not all the beams lit up (due to a stuck pogo pin which took a few minutes to release with a needle). Then, we tried using the Apple HomeKit code, which is recommended if you use an iOS device to add the light in the first instance.
This failed several times for reasons unknown, so we opted for the traditional method which involves connecting to the Beam’s own Wi-Fi network and then picking your own network from the list and tapping in the password which is then sent to the Beam.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t support 5GHz Wi-Fi, just 802.11n 2.4GHz. And it’s also important to check your Wi-Fi signal is good enough in your chosen location before sticking your Beams to the wall.
Once the Beam is connected to Wi-Fi, you have full control from your phone, including when you’re away from home. The full set of features is on offer, from simple dimming and colour changing to the recently introduced Day & Dusk mode and themes.
With Day & Dusk enabled, the Beam will light up slowly like the sun rising, increasing in colour temperature to give the impression of natural daylight.
Day & Dusk is nifty feature, and LIFX has listened to feedback and made it more flexible. You can change when each of the four segments starts, and toggle any of them on or off. Crucially, you can now choose the colour temperature and brightness of each stage.
The only thing we’d still like to see is an option to sync Day & Dusk with your local sunrise and sunset times.
Colours and effects is where the Beam shines… literally. Each Beam outputs 200 lumens, so the six-beam kit offers roughly the same brightness as a single LIFX A60 bulb.
However, as we said at the start, this isn’t meant to illuminate a room. It’s there to make a statement and potentially provide a bit of mood lighting as well.
Static whites or even colours are one thing, but you can ‘paint’ your Beam strips different colours. This works the same way as with the LIFX Z: you pick from a palette and paint it onto the strip in the app with your fingertip.
Unfortunately, even though LIFX has updated the app to support Beam and Tile, the updated ‘Create’ section isn’t at all what we’d hoped for. There are more colours to pick from, but you can no longer pick whites.
We’re used to the imprecise fingertip painting when using the LIFX Z strips, but even with the Beam kit, the app displays the same horizontal line and doesn’t replicate how you’ve placed the beams or corner.
And on a small phone screen, it’s really difficult to get the colours exactly where you want them.
As an alternative, you can tap on one of many themes which automatically picks colours for you based on the theme you choose, such as ‘Soothing’ or ‘Exciting’.
Getting back to effects, this is the feature that will make the pricey light bricks worth it for some people. You can, for example, use your phone or tablet’s built-in mic to hear music that’s playing and visualise that beat on the Beam.
A better option, in our opinion, is Move which makes the colours move along the strips:
Smart home integration
You need the app for certain things, but Beam supports Alexa, Google Home and Siri. Once you’ve set it up with your favourite assistant you can then use your voice to turn it on, off, change colours and brightness.
There’s better integration with some assistants than others, so Siri cannot, for example, be used to set a particular colour temperature: it’s white, green, orange, pink and so on.
Also, as anyone who’s used the iOS Home app will know, you’re much more limited on what you can do compared to LIFX’s own app. With the Beam, you can turn it on and off, adjust brightness and pick a colour, but that’s it.
For those that use IFTTT, Beam offers good integration so you could set it to turn on and be a certain colour depending on the trigger you use. It will also work with your Nest devices, and can turn on and off a various times while your thermostat is set to Away mode.
A pair of external PC speakers will improve any PC’s audio, but to really bring your sound to life you need a 2.1 system. Creative’s Sound BlasterX Kratos S3 ($80 on Amazon) offers an excellent opportunity to upgrade your audio to the next level without too much expense.
The Sound BlasterX Kratos S3 is the entry-level 2.1 speaker system in Creative’s gaming line, though the only thing that visually separates these from standard PC speakers is the logo emblazoned across all three components. The system’s boxy design is fairly conservative as gaming speakers go, and all three enclosures are constructed entirely of wood for a warmer, more natural sound.
The satellites measure approximately 6.2-by-3.7-by-4 inches and sport one mesh-covered 2.75-inch driver each. The left one includes a power/volume knob, an LED indicator that lights when the speakers are on, and a headphone jack.
The ported subwoofer measures 9-by-6.7-by-9 inches and weighs about 5 pounds. Four short legs provide ground clearance for the 5.25-inch down-firing woofer. You control the bass level with a knob on the back of the unit, which also features a 3.5mm audio input where you can plug in your phone or mp3 player.
Each satellite has its own attached connecting cord, the left with an RCA plug and the right with a 13 pin mini-DIN connector. On the back of the subwoofer, where the satellites plug in, is the power cord and an attached 3.5 mm cable that plugs into the audio out jack on your PC.
With 92 watts of peak power, it’s no surprise that the Kratos S3 can fill a room, and we never felt the need to push the volume much past the halfway point. The system has a warm sound overall, with crisp highs and mids. The subwoofer puts out an impressive amount of bass, and we were able to move it under the desk without it losing its presence in the mix. Your not going to get audiophile quality at this price, but the Kratos S3 delivered well above-average sound—with minimal distortion only when pushed to the limit—whether playing music, gaming, or watching film.
We found the Sound BlasterX Kratos versatile enough to bring the best out of all our media. It delivers full warm sound and offers more clarity and a smaller footprint than rival systems we’ve tested. Though it sounds great all by itself, the system can also be used with Sound BlasterX Acoustic Engine Lite software to tweak the audio for different scenarios.
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Sound BlasterX Kratos S3
With its rich sound and low price, the Sound BlasterX Kratos S3 is an excellent option for upgrading to your first 2.1 speaker system.