The UpStream

US officials want to pass a law outlawing unbreakable encryption

posted Friday Jun 28, 2019 by Scott Ertz

US officials want to pass a law outlawing unbreakable encryption

Over the past few years, one of the most important advancements in computing has been the availability of high-quality encryption. As online companies, governments, and hackers continue to expand their attacks on personal computing devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones, the need to protect your data has never been more important. While companies like Microsoft offer more and more options to protect your data, including BitLocker in Windows 10 and OneDrive Personal Vault in the cloud, the perceived threat to governments gets stronger.

Over the past few years, we have seen countries like Australia try to outlaw strong encryption under the guise of national security. This week, a report from Politico suggests that the current US administration is considering asking Congress to pass legislation to require all encryption be breakable.

Of course, this makes the practice of encryption useless if it is able to be bypassed. Any time there is a backdoor into a security system, the backdoor leaks and the security system is breached. The fear or frustration over encryption, in terms of governmental involvement, has been heightened since the attack in San Bernardino in 2017. Law enforcement had an iPhone that they believed had useful information on it, but an officer had screwed up, permanently locking the device. They asked Apple to bypass the security, but Apple refused, citing device security. They made the same claim, that once a hack was built, it would leak.

In response to Apple's refusal to create a special version of iOS that would bypass the security on this device alone, the Department of Justice began petitioning for "responsible encryption," which is a term which means that the only responsibility the encryption platform has is to the government, not to their customer. The extension of this misleading and incredibly dangerous idea is where we pick up the thread this week. If the administration, in particular, the DOJ and FBI, get their way, then encryption would no longer hold the value that it was designed to hold. All encrypted data would be required to have a backdoor that would be guaranteed to leak, exposing all of your personal data to hackers. On the other side of the argument has been the Commerce and State Departments, which have always fought on behalf of the consumer.

Unfortunately, this information comes from leaks of a black box meeting, whose content was not intended for public consumption. That means that until someone pitches the idea formally, this is all just rumor. Hopefully, it will remain that way.

Switch Online could offer N64 and GameCube games, says president

posted Friday Jun 28, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Switch Online could offer N64 and GameCube games, says president

When Nintendo released Switch Online, the company's online gaming service, one of the big draws was its included games. The company announced that, like Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus, Switch Online would come with games every month. Playing into the brand's long gaming history, the included games were announced to be Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games, titles from the company's original home console.

With the release of the SNES Classic console, it was expected that Switch Online would eventually begin offering games from later consoles - especially the SNES. Those expectations were confirmed this week, as Shuntaro Furukawa, president of Nintendo, said in response to a question about future retro hardware to go with the NES Classic and SNES Classic,

At this place we cannot tell new information about future classic hardware among others, but we are thinking about providing an extension of the online service which is currently providing Famicom (NES) software, as well as other methods of providing them.

This would be a popular move for Nintendo. While the original NES games are popular, expanding the catalog to include SNES, N64, and GameCube games would help appeal to a wider range of gamers. For some of us, we grew up on NES games, and are happy to revisit them on the go. For others, however, their introduction to gaming happened on later consoles. Bringing games from those consoles to Switch Online would allow younger gamers to experience the nostalgia that my generation has already had the opportunity for.

This is not the first time we have had evidence of slightly newer games coming to Switch Online. In January, a report suggested that 22 SNES titles were found within the service's listings, but were not currently available to the public. This leak would suggest that Nintendo has been planning this move for a while, and could even be close to releasing some SNES titles to the console.

Would SNES titles bring extra value to Switch Online for you? Let us know in the comments.

The Jobs Era is over: Jony Ive is leaving Apple to form design firm

posted Friday Jun 28, 2019 by Scott Ertz

The Jobs Era is over: Jony Ive is leaving Apple to form design firm

In 1996, two people joined the team at Apple: Steve Jobs returned from his excommunication to head the company and Jony Ive came in to help design some of the company's new products. While Jobs left the company before passing away many years ago, the era of his leadership has remained in Ive's designs. Nearly 23 years later, the Steve Jobs Era is officially coming to an end, as Apple announced Jony Ive's departure. CEO Tim Cook said,

Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple's revival cannot be overstated, from 1998's groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park, where recently he has been putting so much of his energy and care.

Jony Ive will be founding his own design firm, where he will get the opportunity to work on projects that are not Apple-based, and likely not tech-based. After nearly a quarter century working on just Apple products and projects, it will be good for him to flex his design muscle again. That's not to say that Ive will be excluded from Apple projects going forward. Cook said that Apple will engage Ive's firm on future projects, though did not go into detail.

There is no doubt that Apple would not be where it is today if it weren't for the combined efforts of Jobs and Ive. In fact, there is a good chance the company would not have survived the 90s without the products that these two brought to market. Some did not stand the test of time, while others are still considered top-notch designs. The iMac series, for example, is viewed as some of the silliest products the company has ever released. From the fruit-colored bubbles to the swivel desk lamp looking computer, the iMac has always been the joke of the industry. On the other hand, the early iPhones, especially the iPhone 4, the iPod, and the iPad, have all led the industry in their designs, for better or worse.

The problem is that the company's designs have stalled in the last few years. While the iPhone X might have introduced the notch design that many others have emulated, the phone's overall design was not a significant departure from the past decade. The iPad and iPad Pro have essentially remained unchanged for nearly a decade. The likelihood is that Jony Ive has been in a design rut because he has not been able to explore additional projects. Outside of the iterative product projects, his only real design flex has been Apple Park, the company's spaceship campus.

Hopefully, the introduction of new design ideas will energize Apple's product development teams. With someone else heading up the design efforts, perhaps Apple will be able to join the rest of the mobile industry in implementing standards, such as developer-enabled NFC, USB-C, and more. The phones might return to their origins of being ergonomic. We might even see a computer that doesn't look like a giant cheese grater. Only time will tell, however.

AT&T considers selling one media property while expanding another

posted Sunday Jun 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

AT&T considers selling one media property while expanding another

Since purchasing DirecTV, AT&T has seen constant user loss. The loss could have been even worse than publicly reported, with a recent lawsuit accusing them of misreporting numbers. But, if we just look at the reported numbers, the company has lost 350,000 subscribers o er the past 2 quarters. Even DirecTV Now, the company's streaming service, has lost users ending in 1.5 million total. Because of this, AT&T is having to make hard decisions about the future of DirecTV.

According to reports, AT&T is considering selling or spinning off the division entirely. The most likely end result for satellite TV would be similar to satellite radio: a single company. As of now, it looks like DISH Network is interested in purchasing the company, its assets, and its users. This would make the combined DISH/DirecTV the only consumer-facing satellite television subscription service.

In reality, DISH is most likely interested in the contracts that the company has, plus their streaming infrastructure. Streaming television services are quickly creating a challenge for traditional cable and satellite television providers. Services like DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV, and more, are becoming lucrative, and DISH Network might just be looking at entering that business.

If they purchase DirecTV, however, they will have one new challenger to contend with from AT&T's other media division: WarnerMedia. The service, which came to light last year, is thought to combine a number of WarnerMedia's big properties, including HBO, into a single service. A leak suggests the price will be between $16 and $17 per month.

While $17 per month might sound like a lot at first, it is important to note that HBO NOW currently runs $15 per month. If you simply add Cinemax to the mix, an additional $2 is a steal But, when you bundle in other WarnerMedia properties, such as Warner Bros. television and movies, the price gets even more reasonable. Of course, this number is just a rumor at this point, and things could change between now and the official launch of the service, which is expected in March 2020.

Cryptocurrency could soon land you 10 years in prison in India

posted Sunday Jun 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Cryptocurrency could soon land you 10 years in prison in India

The world of cryptocurrency has created legal and social problems across the globe. Whether it be exchanges shutting down without notice, multi-billion dollar hijackings, or defining a legal framework for what cryptocurrencies are, governments have had trouble wrapping their heads around the idea. While most countries have begun to look into regulating these currencies as investments, similar to stocks or bonds, one government is taking a different approach.

Rather than trying to regulate the industry, India is considering making the whole industry illegal. A bill making it illegal to mine, hold, buy, sell, or trade cryptocurrencies is reportedly on its way to the Parliament of India. The punishment would be a decade-long jail sentence for any and all of these "infractions."

The bill, entitled "Banning of Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill 2019," has been created to combat what the government sees as a technology that enables illegal money transfers, illicit purchases, and tax evasion. There is definitely a lot of reality behind the accusations. Silk Road famously made it easy to buy and sell drugs, weapons, and even people, all made possible because of Bitcoin. Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, also make interstate money transfers easy, potentially circumventing existing bank laws.

However, trying to outlaw the concept is never going to work. The technology is here and it isn't going anywhere, no matter how hard the government tries. In trying to outlaw cryptocurrency, it will not eliminate its use. Instead, it will drive it underground, where the behaviors will continue to exist without any way for oversight. Instead, the government should figure out how to make cryptocurrency legitimate within the context of the country's banking law. Unfortunately, the government had previously sided with the central bank, who has fought hard to make cryptocurrency a bad word, likely leading to this law.

Microsoft and Xbox are all about the games in 2019 and beyond

posted Sunday Jun 9, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft and Xbox are all about the games in 2019 and beyond

While we never know exactly what to expect from an E3 presentation, we always know we'll see new games. Microsoft decided to dedicate as much time to that endeavor as possible, exhibiting 60 games, including 14 from Xbox Game Studios, and 34 titles which will premiere on the company's Xbox Game Pass subscription service. The presentation included a number of world premieres, both from first-party and third-party studios. Plus, we got a better look at Project xCloud and the next Xbox platform.

Games

A highly anticipated game coming into E3 was Cyberpunk 2077. Xbox showed off a very long trailer for the game, ending with the inclusion of Keanu Reeves. Immediately following the trailer, Keavue Reeves himself came on stage to discuss the details of the game. You play as an outlaw, a role Keanu knows well, in a futuristic civilization where cybernetic body modification has become not just the norm, but an obsession. The game looks both beautiful and engaging, with visuals that are simply stunning. The game, which is based on the 1980s-era tabletop game Cyberpunk 2020, is slated for release in April 2020.

One of the surprise titles was Blair Witch, obviously based on the film. The game seems to take the responsibility of the title seriously, bringing some unique gameplay and storytelling features into the game. Just like the film, it uses a camcorder to help narrate the story, as well as help the player discover not easily seen content.

The highly anticipated Gear 5, the newest game in the Gears of War franchise was also shown off. The new Escape mode is what we got to learn about, care of a trip under the stage. This new mode is similar to the popular "zombie mode" in other games, but taking place within the Gears of War universe. It is very reminiscent of Left4Dead, but only 3 survivors instead of 4. The big twist is that you can create your own hives and challenge your friends to survive. The game releases on September 10, 2019, but will release to Xbox Game Pass 4 days early.

The company also wanted to spotlight ID @ Xbox, the indie developer network at Xbox. Xbox showed off a sizzle reel featuring dozens of new indie games, all coming to the Xbox. More importantly, all of the game featured in the reel will also premiere in Game Pass on launch day, making them available to all Game Pass subscribers.

Double Fine

The newest member of the Xbox Game Studio family is Double Fine, the studio behind the cult classic Psychonauts. Personally, this game is one of my all-time favorites and is a game I go back to every couple of years. As the company's first official announcement as part of XGS, Double Fine showed off a trailer for Psychonauts 2. It maintains all of the weird, dark humor of the original while picking up the story right where it left off.

Xbox Game Pass

While tons of new games will be premiering on Xbox Game Pass for Console, Xbox Game Pass for PC is official and available in open beta RIGHT NOW. The platform is launching with over 100 titles available for play. To join the beta, simply download the new Xbox app for Windows. In addition to the solo service, the company is announcing Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Xbox Game Pass Console, Xbox Live Gold, and Xbox Game Pass PC for $14.99 per month. You can try the whole thing right now $1.

Project xCloud

We've talked at length about the possibilities that Project xCloud could bring about. The problem has been, how will it work, and how close is it to market? At E3 this week, Microsoft is giving the first hands-on with the platform. So, it's close to market, but how will it work? Project xCloud will have 2 modes: full cloud and hybrid cloud. The full cloud version will use hardware in a data center to stream to wherever you are. The hybrid model, however, will use your existing Xbox hardware to stream to your games to your devices. While there is no public pricing on the full cloud option, the hybrid model will be available starting in October and will be entirely free to use.

Project Scarlett

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that Xbox should be the center of the living room. While that was a great goal, not all gamers were into it. The feedback has been to focus the console on the gaming experience, and that is exactly what the next generation of Xbox hardware is all about.

A new AMD-powered processor is designed to make everything run faster. It is 4x more powerful than the Xbox One X, which is already the most powerful console on the market. Adding faster RAM and an SSD allows for 8K video, little to no load times, and significantly more engaging content. Studios are already working on content for this new console, and the reviews are in: it's going to make games far better. The new hardware will be available Holiday 2020, and it will launch with the definitive Xbox title: Halo Infinite.

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