ISIS has converted commercial drones into bombers

As Iraqi Security Forces attempt to drive ISIS out of Mosul, a large city in Northern Iraq that the terrorist organization has occupied since 2014, it’s facing an arsenal of improvised, experimental weapons. One of ISIS’ newest hand-made weapons is the armed drone: a commercial quadcopter equipped with the ability to drop grenade-size explosives.

It’s well-known that ISIS uses weaponized drones, but new images out of Mosul confirm that the group is now using the quadcopters as bombers as well as single-mission vehicles. Kurdish media network Rudaw reported last week that the explosive-dropping drones have killed civilians and damaged equipment. So far, ISIS has not used these drones to deliver chemical weapons, Rudaw said.

Iraqi forces have anti-drone weapons, including gun-like jammers that can drop some commercial models to the ground, and they’ve taken down at least a dozen armed drones so far, Rudaw reports. The ISF also uses off-the-shelf drones in its military operations, mainly for scouting and helping to call artillery strikes.

Source: Rudaw, Popular Science

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Raspberry Pi gives its PC-on-a-stick a big speed boost

Raspberry Pi has taken its latest computing board and squished it onto the stick-sized Compute Module 3, giving it about ten times the power of the original Compute Module. Unlike the Raspberry Pi 3 upon which it’s based, however, the device is built for industrial applications, prototypers and advanced hobbyists, not students or casual users. It can now play that part a lot better, thanks to a 1.2GHz Broadcom processor, 1GB of RAM (double that of the original) and upgradeable storage.

Raspberry Pi points out that NEC used the device in its latest signage and presentation monitors (below), giving you an idea as to the intended market. It fits into a standard DDR2 SODIMM form factor, making it easy to find inexpensive sockets from several manufacturers. Developers will also want the Compute Module IO Board, giving you Pi-like pin and flexi connectors, MicroSD, HDMI and USB "so that you have an entire system that can boot Raspbian (or the OS of your choice)," the organization wrote.

The idea with the Compute Module is "to provide the ‘team in a garage’ with easy access to the same technology as the big guys," Raspberry Pi wrote. As such, manufacturers can add it into a dumb device to make it smart, since it can single-handedly do processing, memory and routing chores. At the same time, it should be relatively easy to program for anyone with some Pi experience.

The Compute Module 3 with upgradeable MicroSD storage runs $30 (£27), but if you’re fine with 4GB of fixed flash memory, you can go for a $25 (£22) "Lite" module. The IO board is sold separately for £96 (around $116) or together with the Compute Module 3 for £126 (about $143). For details on how to get it in the UK, US and elsewhere, hit Raspberry Pi’s announcement post.

Via: PC World

Source: Raspberry Pi

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Google Maps may soon offer parking suggestions

Google Maps can already tell you how congested your drive will be, but how about when you arrive? It looks like the app is about to give you at least a decent idea about the parking situation, thanks to a new feature spotted in the latest 9.44 beta by Android Police. Availability of spaces at a selected destination is shown as "easy," "medium" and "limited," with the latter situation highlighted in red. Once you start navigating, it’ll give further details in the instructions, indicating that parking around your arrival address is "usually not easy" or "limited," for instance.

Waze and Inrix touted a similar feature last September, so Google may be trying to ensure that it at least keeps up. Waze’s app can actually find you a spot, however, while Google’s app just gives a general overview of the situation. It’s not clear yet how Google is getting the data.

I downloaded the app and parking availability didn’t work anywhere I tried in Paris, France, and Ars Technica says it’s not appearing in the New York/Long Island area either. However, it did show up for me at the destinations that Android Police‘s tipster tried (somewhere in Maryland, I think). So far, locations seem to be limited to malls, airports and other public spots, which is not surprising considering that the feature is still in beta. It may work for you, though — you can download it from the APK Mirror if you’re feeling adventurous, or wait for the official release.

Via: Ars Technica

Source: Google Maps Beta (APK mirror), Android Police

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Zotac’s tiny gaming PC is powerful enough to play in VR

A major obstacle currently facing VR is the fact that the headsets themselves (generally) have to remain tethered to a bulky desktop tower. With the new Zbox Magnus EN1070K from Zotac, however, that tower is now barely bigger than a Mac Mini.

The EN1070K is part of Zotac’s gaming line of ultra-compact PCs, but don’t let its minuscule footprint fool you. It offers the current Intel Kaby Lake Core i5 processor, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 GPU and can accommodate up to 32GB of RAM. That’s more than enough processing power to run a VR setup such as the Oculus Rift.

There’s no word yet on when the EN1070K will be released, or for how much. Given that the last generation E-series cost around $1,500, you can pretty safely bet the new one will retail for roughly the same, depending on the specific components you select. So even though it may be small enough to fit into a VR backpack, the EN1070K’s price tag may be too big to fit into your budget.

Via: The Verge

Source: AnandTech

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12 million declassified CIA files are now available online

The CIA has posted a vast cache of nearly 12 million declassified CIA pages online, including info on Nazi war crimes, the Cuban Missile Crisis, UFO sightings, human telepathy ("Project Stargate") and much more. It’s been a long time coming — Bill Clinton first ordered all documents at least 25 years old with "historical value" to be declassified in 1995. The agency complied, but didn’t exactly make it easy to see the trove — you had to trek all the way to the US National Archives in Washington DC to get a peak.

The CIA did release an electronic database called CREST (the CIA Records Search Tool) in 2000, but you could only search document titles and still had to visit the archives to read each document. In 2014, a nonprofit journalism organization called MuckRock filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit pressing the CIA to post all of its documents online, but the agency said it would take up to six years to scan everything.

Journalist Michael Best even started a Kickstarter campaign, Buzzfeed points out, to raise funds to manually copy and scan the documents. The CIA finally agreed to post the entire database online last year, and has now made good on that promise.

So, is there anything juicy in there? Not likely. CIA Director of Information Management Joseph Lambert said the agency did one last check through the collection before releasing it, and did not reclassify any more documents.

However, there’s no doubt a lot of thrilling stuff for historians, war buffs, UFO enthusiasts and others. The archives cover events from the 1940s the 1990s (each year, a new batch are declassified) and include details about the flight of war criminals from Nazi Germany, the quarter-mile Berlin tunnel built to tap Soviet telephone lines, internal intelligence bulletins and memos from former CIA directors, UFO reports and more.

Via: Buzzfeed

Source: CIA CREST Library

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‘Final Fantasy XV’ tricked me into buying Cup Noodles

I should have been turned off by the commercial advertising casually strewn throughout Final Fantasy XV. Coleman logos are plainly visible when the game’s heroes set up camp for the night. Billboards for Nissin Cup Noodles line the highways of Eos. It’s product placement so obvious it’s almost laughable — and yet, I now have an eight-pack of instant ramen on my kitchen counter. What happened? A beautiful, devious combination of empathy and nostalgia.

My shame in falling for a game’s product tie-ins is dulled somewhat by the knowledge that I saw it coming. Final Fantasy XV planted the seeds of manipulation early, offering me a grain of nostalgia in the game’s first moments. The story opened with four friends pushing a broken-down convertible to a nearby service station — a pit stop that sold a copy of the Final Fantasy IV soundtrack that could be listened to when the hero’s car was up and running again. Suddenly, the game’s road trip was scored with the music from my favorite Final Fantasy. The game had anchored me to its world by draping it with my love of its predecessors. At first blush, this seems like a simple Easter egg, but it’s more insidious than that. Square Enix was using the power of association to endear me to its brand, a suggestion it would cash in on later.

As the game’s nostalgic hook kept me invested in its bare-bones plot, its four heroes livened up the adventure with charming repartee, breaking into conversation while driving, fighting in battle or shopping at an in-game gas station. I grew to care for Noctis, Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis as they revealed their personalities. This planted Square Enix’s second seed of manipulation: empathy. After a dozen hours of play, the game had sold me on its tagline: A Final Fantasy for Fans and First-Timers. I was nostalgically hooked, and I cared about the characters. Then, the advertisements came.

It was subtle at first. I’d stop to camp, and Noct’s friends would playfully challenge him to a game called King’s Knight, passing through the camping cut scene by poking at their smartphones. I thought nothing of it, but over time the characters started talking about the fictional video game in idle conversation. My curiosity got the better of me, and a quick Google search revealed that King’s Knight: Wrath of the Dark Dragon was a real smartphone game advertised as "a smash hit in the world of Final Fantasy XV." I groaned at the obvious cross-branding, but not hard enough to stop me from downloading the game. Despite seeing through Square Enix’s ploy, I had to know what had the cast of my game so engaged.

Soon, the product placement grew even bolder. And weirder. Every time I drove through the town of Lestallum, Gladiolus would yammer on about how badly he wanted Cup Noodles — leading me to a Cup Noodles vendor in the town square. Approaching the in-game store tailored to a specific real-life product kicks off a quest that’s little more than a playable commercial.

Gladiolus wants the "perfect cup" of instant ramen and waxes poetic about all the possible ingredients. The mission sets you out on a hunt to find fresh toppings to the "already delicious" Cup Noodles to make them even better while simultaneously doubting the product can even be improved upon. "After all," Gladiolus shills in an actual line of spoken dialogue from the game, "the shrimp they use in Cup Noodles was selected from over 60 varieties for their flavor and their shape."

It’s a kind of direct marketing that I’ve never seen in a game before — yet it’s so knowingly absurd that it’s actually kind of enjoyable. Each character’s voice actor delivers his lines with a hefty helping of camp, delighting in how awful and silly the entire cross-promotion is. It plays like a parody of itself, and it’s hard to imagine the gimmick selling even a single cup of instant ramen. And yet, one week later I found myself staring down a pack of Cup Noodles at my local grocery store. I felt like an idiot, but what the hell: It was a guilty pleasure that reminded me of college and was only $0.35 a cup. Besides, Gladiolus made it sound really good.

Square Enix exploited my memory of the Final Fantasy franchise and my fondness for its characters again and again. I was eventually coaxed into downloading the mobile version of Justice Monsters Five, one of Final Fantasy XV’s minigames, and found myself browsing Steam and Google Play for the classics whose music I’d been listening to in driving sequences.

FINAL FANTASY XV_20170118103349

As I considered giving Final Fantasy XIII a second chance, I knew my roused interest was nothing more than the fruits of a carefully planned cross-promotion campaign. I’m surprisingly OK with that. After two MMOs that didn’t resonate with me, a series of clunky spin-offs and a numbered entry to the franchise that fell flat, I was positive Square Enix had lost its touch. Final Fantasy XV not only proved me wrong but also tricked me into remembering how much I loved the franchise in the first place. If the price for that renewed fandom is a couple of servings of Cup Noodles, so be it. I can take the sodium.

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Korean military used video game clips to sell real fighter jets

South Korea proudly showed off footage of its top-of-the-line Kai KF-X fighter jet in 2015; the culmination of over 14 years of work. Unfortunately, a year and a bit later, Korea Times discovered that footage used to show off the fighter’s impressive performance actually came from old video games. Whoops.

Adding insult to injury, the paper reports that producing the plagiarized clip cost around $40,000 in taxpayer money. South Korea’s military was quick to acknowledge that the footage (taken from Battlefield 3 and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon) wasn’t authorized and has agreed to cease using the clips.

In a bid to avoid national embarrassment, everyone involved is predictably blaming one other. While the military pointed the finger at the company that made the video, amazingly the video producers were quick to hedge their bets, claiming that both the Agency for Defence Development and Korea Aerospace Industries, stating that both companies had a final say.

The unauthorized use of footage from the games could lead to legal action, meaning the jet might end up costing South Korea even more cash. Neither Battlefield publisher EA or Ace Combat publisher Namco Bandai has issued a comment.

Remember kids, war isn’t a game… unless you look really, really closely at promotional videos.

Source: Korea Times

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