Archive for June 4th, 2012
It’s 1am Pacific, the night before E3 press conferences begin. Time to announce a game … ? Atlus and Ace Team live to surprise us, and have done so with the late-night reveal of Zeno Clash II . The first-person fighter followup features a new, open world, brimming with “most of the characters, enemies, and items from the first game–all of which return with dramatic visual enhancement” as well as a host of new characters and items. RPG elements are in, and the fighting system has been updated to allow more precise strikes. And, even more dramatically, drop-in, drop-out co-op is in. Basically, this sounds unexpectedly enormous, and we’re surprised to see an early 2013 release window attached to the ambitious project, for PC, XBLA, and PSN (for PS3). They must be working non-stop at my dad’s .
EA Canada, whose last shipped product was this year’s SSX reboot, is looking for somebody to help out on a new franchise, according to a job listing for a lead gameplay designer. “This is a major opportunity to lead the gameplay of an exciting new intellectual property that will entertain millions of people around the world,” the listing reads. Some of the wording also suggests this new IP is either a shooter or an action game – likely both. Either way, it’s a game with a heavy online component: EA is looking for somebody with a “proven track record of designing and balancing combat, player controls, and AI for AAA shooters or action games,” and who has a “deep knowledge of the action/shooter game genre.” This person must “drive the player progression experience to ensure a deep and addictive persistent online experience.” With E3 going on this week, it wouldn’t be a bad bet to say we’ll hear more during the show; however, some of the wording suggests that this project hasn’t gotten too far off the ground yet and might be too early off for an announcement. EA is still looking for someone to “plan and define all components of the game, including its setting, structure, rules, story flow, characters, objects, vehicles, interface design and game modes.”
Innovations in solar energy and wind turbines may have brought environmental changes on a global scale, but at a more personal level, it’s the Internet that has made us more ecologically responsible. The biggest savings are on transportation costs as you no longer have to drive to the bank, post office or the electricity department for sundry work and payments. Just a few clicks of the mouse and you can save fuel and paperwork. Whether it is to book flight or movie tickets, transfer funds, pay bills or file taxes, online is the green option. In fact, most banks discourage physical payments. For instance, if you pay your credit card bill via cash at a bank branch, you have to pay Rs 100 extra. Add to this the parking and fuel cost, and you’ll probably end up paying about Rs 200 to pay just one bill.
Reduce paper usage
If you’re a tree-hugger, digitising all your documents should be at the top of your list of tasks. Many portals now offer to store digital versions of your documents, which can be accessed by anyone from anywhere, saving you the cost of buying and printing reams of paper. You can make changes to the files offline and this can be synched automatically when you log on to the Net. You can use services like Google Docs (docs.google.com), DropBox (dropbox.com) and Windows Live SkyDrive (explore.live.com/skydrive). The latter lets you store up to 25 GB of data for free, while DropBox provides a free account of 2 GB, which can be upgraded to 50 GB for $9.99 (Rs 560) a month. Kleeto (kleeto.in) is an Indian company, which allows you to store 15 physical documents for a basic subscription charge of Rs 200 a year. The company collects the files from you and uploads the scanned versions that you can access. Whenever you need the original documents, they can send them to you within two to three days. You can store your medical history on Yostechnologies.com and MyHealthRecords.in, which let you upload scanned paperwork. This lets you access the information any time and avoids wastage of money on duplicate tests in case you misplace a report.
The app advantage
Every month, hundreds of free apps flood your mobile phone, promising to make your life more convenient and help reduce costs. For instance, price comparison apps let you pick the best deal. One of these is Check Price India on Android, which helps you compare prices of various gadgets across online retailers. A few travel apps, such as Kayak Flight and Hotel Search and Booking.com, let you compare flight and hotel deals. The former also allows you to check baggage fees and access airline numbers.
If you send text messages frequently, download free SMS apps like Free SMS India, Jaxtr SMS and Whozzat. These apps allow you to use your regular GPRS connection to send messages to any phone across the country.
Another useful app to install is an ATM locater, which will list the ATM closest to you. This saves time looking for one and lets you know whether your bank’s ATM is close by, so that you don’t need to shell out extra for using another bank’s machine.
Other apps help organise your paperwork and make good use of offers, such as Warrantify. This app allows you to scan your receipts and warranties and store them on the cloud. You can add information about the model, price and warranty validity. The app will keep track of the warranty period and notify you when the expiry date approaches.
Recycling is the way
You may be a conscious user when it comes to buying or using gadgets, but how do you dispose of them? Rather than letting them collect dust, you can sell your old products on websites, such as ebay.in, olx.in and quikr.com. Before doing this, you should conduct research to figure out the price at which similar products are being sold. Then open an account on any of these sites and put up photos of your product from every angle. If this seems like too much of work, you can approach companies that will be more than willing to buy your old gizmos. For instance, at Attero (atterobay.com), you can check the valuation of your old mobile phone. If you are willing to sell it to the company, it will collect your phone and send you a cheque within seven days.
Gadgets to the rescue
Companies are smart to cash in on the ecological wave and are busy selling gadgets that boast a green USP. Recently, Godrej launched air conditioners with ‘green balance technology’, which claim to consume only 1,325 watts an hour and help you save 23% in power consumption compared with other five star ACs, and 11% more than other inverter ACs. The 1.5 ton AC costs Rs 45,000, which is almost Rs 10,000 more than the average price for its range, but if claims are true, you should be able to recover the cost within one season. A good way to reduce power consumption is to check the BEE star rating of the appliances you buy.
If you’re particular about water conservation, opt for front loading washing machines which consume less water and electricity than top loaders. There are other simple measures that can help reduce cost, such as buying rechargeable batteries rather than conventional cells, and ensuring that gadgets are switched off so that they do not consume electricity on standby.
TAIPEI: Taiwan’s Acer Inc said on Monday it would remain closer to U.S. chipmaker Intel , even though Microsoft also embraces rival ARM for its new Windows 8 operating system. The world’s No.4 PC vendor has given an upbeat outlook for the second half after delivering a quarterly net profit that lagged market expectations in April, betting on the launch of Microsoft’s new Windows system and more slimline ultrabook computers.
The company is recovering from two consecutive quarters of losses in April to September last year and a management shake-up.
Acer said on Monday, ahead of the opening of Taiwan’s annual Computex trade fair, that it would formally launch new ultrabook and tablet designs after Microsoft puts its new windows system in the market, expected in the fourth quarter, with the first shipments starting in August and volume shipment commencing in September.
The first wave of Windows 8 products will be using Intel chips, while ARM-based designs will not be in market until 2-4 months later, expected in the first quarter.
“Finally the couple (Windows and Intel) recover their relationship,” Acer Chairman J.T. Wang told reporters at a small group interview. “We are more familiar with the Windows ecosystem, our supply chain is also mainly in the Window ecosystem.”
Wang said Acer has no plans so far to launch non-tablet devices using ARM designs.
“According to engineer studies, unless we go into ARM 64-bit, otherwise performance is still not so great,” he said. “ARM is a newcomer, young and attractive but it takes some time.”
Acer is showcasing new tablet computer models in slate and convertible design – or with and without conventional keyboards – based on the Windows 8 system at Computex this year, as well as two touch ultrabooks, which use aluminium metallic casings which enable cost competitiveness, and come in 12mm thickness.
“I have never been so supportive to Microsoft,” Wang told a news conference earlier on Monday. “We have a good opportunity to grow again after the Windows 8 launch. Acer is fully committed to deliver a full line of Windows 8 products.”
Acer said prices for these new gadgets would be announced after the launch of Windows 8. But in a powerpoint at the presentation it said the touch ultrabook would range from $1,799, significantly higher than the below $1,000 non-touch ones currently in the market.
Ultrabooks are an ultra-thin notebook PC that is similar to Apple Inc’s Macbook Air and offers some of the technological chic of the iPad and other tablets.
But some investors are concerned that the expensive components used in ultrabooks, such as solid-state drives, make them too pricey for many consumers.
In April, Acer lowered its ultrabook shipment contribution forecast for 2012 to 12-20 percent from 25-35 percent, but still saw its ultrabook shipments in the second quarter would double from the first quarter and they would keep growing for the rest of the year, with four new models planned.
MOSCOW: When Eugene Kaspersky, the founder of Europe’s largest anti-virus company, discovered the Flame virus that is afflicting computers in Iran and the Middle East, he recognized it as a technologically sophisticated virus that only a government could create.
He also recognized that the virus, which he compares to the Stuxnet virus built by programmers employed by the U.S. and Israel, adds weight to his warnings of the grave dangers posed by governments that manufacture and release viruses on the Internet.
“Cyberweapons are the most dangerous innovation of this century,” he told a gathering of technology company executives, called CeBIT Australia, last month in Sydney, Australia. While the U.S. and Israel are using them to slow the nuclear bomb-making abilities of Iran, they could also be used to disrupt power grids and financial systems or even wreak havoc with military defenses.
Computer security companies have for years used their discovery of a new virus or worm to call attention to themselves and win more business from companies seeking computer protection. Kaspersky, a Russian computer security expert, and his company, Kaspersky Lab, are no different in that regard.
But he is also using his company’s integral role in exposing or decrypting three computer viruses apparently intended to slow or halt Iran’s nuclear program to argue for an international treaty banning computer warfare.
A growing array of states are using online weapons, he says, because they are “thousands of times cheaper” than conventional armaments. While anti-virus companies might catch some, only an international treaty that would ban militaries and spy agencies from making viruses will truly solve the problem.
The wide disclosure of the details of the Flame virus by Kaspersky Lab also seems intended to promote the Russian call for a ban on cyberweapons like those that blocked poison gas or expanding bullets from the armies of major states.
And that puts the Russian company in a difficult position because it already faces suspicions that it is tied to the Russian government, accusations Kaspersky has constantly knocked down as he has built his business.
While Russian officials have not commented on the discovery of Flame, the Russian minister of telecommunications gave a speech, also in May, calling for an international cyberweapon ban. Russia has also pushed for a bilateral treaty with the U.S.
The United States has agreed to discuss such a disarmament treaty with the Russians, but has also tried to encourage Russia to prosecute online crime, which flourishes in this country.
The U.S. has long objected to the Russian crusade for an online arms control ban. “There is no broad international support for a cyberweapon ban,” says James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This is a global diplomatic ploy by the Russians to take down a perceived area of U.S. military advantage.”
Russia, many security experts note, has been accused of using cyberwarfare in disputes with Estonia and wars in Georgia.
Kaspersky said that at no point did he cooperate with the Federal Security Agency, the successor agency to the KGB, as the Flame virus was not a threat to Russian citizens. Kaspersky Lab, he said, felt justified exposing the Flame virus because the company was working under the auspices of a United Nations agency. But the company has been noticeably silent on viruses perpetrated in its own backyard, where Russian-speaking criminal syndicates controlled a third of the estimated $12 billion global cybercrime market last year, according to the Russian security firm Group-IB.
Some say there is good reason for that. “He’s got family,” said Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at F-Secure, a computer security firm in Helsinki. “I wouldn’t expect them to be the most aggressive about publicizing threats in their neighborhood for fear those neighbors would retaliate.”
Last year, Kaspersky’s 19-year-old son was kidnapped by criminals demanding a ransom. The kidnappers did not appear to have ties to any of Russia’s online criminal syndicates, but Sullivan says,
“It was probably a wake-up call.”
Some computer security firms say Kaspersky’s researchers have hyped Flame. It is too early, his critics say, to call the virus a cyberweapon and to suggest it was sponsored by a state. Joe Jaroch, a vice president at Webroot, an anti-virus maker, says he first encountered a sample of Flame in 2007. He says he did not publicize the discovery because he did not consider the code sophisticated. “There are many more dangerous viruses out there,” he said. “I would be shocked if this was the work of a nation state.”
Sullivan, from F-Secure, said: “It’s interesting and complex, but not sleek and stealthy. It could be the work of a military contractor – Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other contractors are developing programs like these for different intelligence services. To call it a cyberweapon says more about Kaspersky’s Cold War mentality than anything else. It has to be taken with a grain of salt.”
Whether the skepticism is authentic or professional jealousy, no one doubts the Kaspersky Lab’s skills.
Kaspersky studied cryptography at a high school that was co-sponsored by the KGB and Russia’s ministry of defense, and later took a job with the Russian military. He started tracking computer viruses as a side project in 1989, after his work PC was infected with one. In 1997, he co-founded Kaspersky Lab with his wife at the time, Natalya, in their Moscow apartment.
The headquarters of the team that unraveled Flame is an open-plan office of cubicles overlooking a park on the edge of Moscow. Kaspersky eschews suits and his researchers wear Converse shoes and tattered jeans, much as their counterparts in the U.S. do. A Darth Vader mask adorns one desk.
Talent also abounds. The Belarussian virus hunter who first found the Stuxnet virus in 2010, Sergei Ulasen, now works for Kaspersky Lab.
Today, the company is one of Russia’s most recognizable exports. It commands 8 percent of the world’s software security market for businesses, with revenue reaching $612 million last year.
Yet Kaspersky says he often has to refute suggested ties to Russia’s security services. Analysts say suspicions about the firm’s Russian roots have hindered its expansion abroad.
“The U.S. government, defense contractors and lots of U.S. companies won’t work with them,” said Peter Firstbrook, director of malware research at Gartner, a research firm. “There’s no evidence that they have any back doors in their software or any ties to the Russian mafia or state. It’s a red herring, but there is still a concern that you can’t operate in Russia without being controlled by the ruling party.”
Kaspersky said his company tackled Flame upon the request of the International Telecommunications Unit, a branch of the U.N. He assigned about three dozen engineers to investigate a virus that was erasing files on computers at Iran’s oil ministry.
Kaspersky researchers, some of whom had analyzed suspected U.S. and Israeli viruses that destroyed centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program two years earlier, were already following up on complaints from Iranian clients that Kaspersky’s anti-virus software was not catching a new type of malware on their systems, Kaspersky officials said.
“We saw an unusual structure of the code, compressed and encrypted in several ways,” Vitaly Kamlyuk, a researcher on the team that cracked the virus.
It was the first virus to look for Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity, either to spread to those devices, map a user’s social or professional circle, or steal information from them. The program also contained a command called “microbe” that silently turned on users’ microphones to record their conversations and sent audio files back to the attackers. It was clearly not a virus made by criminals.
“Anti-virus companies are in a not easy situation,” Kaspersky said. “We have to protect our customers everywhere in the world. On the other hand, we understand there are quite serious powers behind these viruses.”
Even though finding viruses first is usually a boon for anti-virus companies, cracking Flame, Kaspersky said, might hurt his business in one regard. “For the next five years, we can forget about government contracts in the United States.”
BANGALORE: Five years ago, with a grand plan to conquer the East, networking giant Cisco Systems opened a front in Bangalore, and posted its trusted generals to lead the march.
What it did not plan on was fighting a Chinese dragon – rival Huawei Technologies – which is chomping away at Cisco’s market share. To its credit, Cisco now admits the threat and is gearing up to take the spectre head on.
“Some of Huawei’s weaknesses are very serious. And we’re going to call it out. Not just here, but globally,” said Anil Menon , Cisco’s president – globalisation . “We are going to beat them in solutions and innovations.” San Jose-based Cisco, which sells routers and switches among other networking equipment, set up its second global headquarters, called the Globalisation Centre East, in Bangalore in 2007, for better access to this part of the world, both in terms of talent and market opportunities .
Menon, who reports to Cisco’s chief globalisation officer Wim Elfrink , hints at Cicso’s battle plan, by referring to solutions, a known Achilles Heel for Huawei, especially in the enterprise market, a Cisco stronghold. Huawei excelled at selling lowerpriced gear, aided by generous credit lines from state-owned Chinese banks, which it offers to clients to purchase merchandise from them but pay later.
However, it is yet to catch up in marrying managed services and equipment to offer complete solutions package. Menon declined to reveal anything more about his strategy to take on Huawei but called that firm’s policies “unethical” , without elaborating. However, he was quick to add that it is not a China issue . “We work with several Chinese companies and they’re totally okay,” said Menon. A spokesperson for Huawei called the comments unfortunate and said the firm has “great respect for Cisco”.
“We are very concerned about any claims or actions that are not based on any evidence of wrongdoing on Huawei’s part,” said Scott Sykes, vice-president – corporate media affairs, Huawei. Beside solutions, Cisco is also betting on innovation, an area where analysts say Cisco did not live up to the expectations set at the time of its globalisation drive into Bangalore.
Except for a new router ASR 901 designed in India for mobile operators , innovation has remained more or less on paper. While Cisco used to be a dominant player, rivals such as Juniper Networks, Hewlett-Packard and Huawei have been steadily eating into its market share, according to Naresh Singh, principal research analyst at research firm Gartner.
Juniper has roughly 9% market share in the router and switches segment and is looking to double its share, while Huawei has a 10% market share, data from research firm Infonetics Research show. In routers and network switches, Cisco’s share has fallen to 55% from 66% five years ago, IDC data from last year show.
“Its rivals now attract clients with quality equipment at favorable prices,” Gartner’s Singh said. Such market share erosion raises the question whether the globalisation efforts have indeed paid off. Senior executives – such as globalisation chief Elfrink – once moved to Bangalore has since returned, making observers wonder if Cisco continues to have faith in Bangalore-based globalisation agenda.
“Some things may not have gone exactly the way we thought it would,” says Menon. “We have made changes. But show me anything that has exactly gone to script.” And this is not the first time Cisco is training its guns on Huawei. Last month, Cisco chief executive John Chambers called Huawei “a more significant networking competitor than Hewlett-Packard.
Chambers went a step further to say that Cisco wouldn’t stop at protecting its home market – the US – but will aim to beat Huawei in their home market China as well. It remains to be seen if Cisco and Menon can walk the talk when it comes to taking on the Chinese rival.