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Ben Heck’s mini pinball: Simulating gameplay

Ben and Felix meet with Terry from Mathworks to find out how they can use Matlab and Simulink to create a simulation of the miniature pinball table and teensy microcontroller. Terry explains how Simulink, and hardware running a real-time OS, can mimic the experience of an embedded hardware system. Throw in an accurate 3D model created with Autodesk's Fusion 360, and the team gets a good idea how the prototypes will work without having to rebuild the design. The team can even control it with an XBox One controller! Join in with the build over on the element14 Community.

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The new ‘Zelda’ DLC is all about exploration and survival

The Nintendo Switch is a neat little console -- but its debut was almost overshadowed by its flagship launch game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game was lauded as a long overdue evolution on the Zelda formula, and it deserved the praise, too -- it's an objectively excellent adventure game that brings the classic Nintendo franchise into the modern era.

Still, fans were worried Nintendo would stumble when it came to the game's DLC packs. Rest easy, Hylian hero, Breath of the Wild's first DLC drop is light, but actually pretty good. Mostly because it focuses on what made the game great in the first place: survival, exploration and problem solving.

It's not completely apparent when you first install the DLC, but the updated Breath of the Wild content seamlessly fits in with the world of the original game. Yes, upon downloading the update the game will give you a list of new items, tools and quests available to pursue -- but it doesn't make them available to you as soon as you boot up the game. Instead, it tells you where to look for hints for finding the new items in the game world. Want to wear Majora's Mask or Tingle's silly green tights? You'd better find Misko's journal in the Outpost Ruins. The DLC scatters books with rumors and riddles throughout Hyrule, each pointing you in the direction of the new items.

Thankfully, the riddles aren't too hard to figure out, but they're vague enough to make the task of redeeming your DLC feel a little bit like an adventure. It's just the right balance of difficulty, offering enough of a challenge to scratch the player's itch for exploration without making them feel like they're working too hard to get an item they already paid for with real money. Sure, Nintendo could have dropped the DLC items out of the sky like an Amiibo-activated treasure chest -- but making them part of Link's adventure fits the theme of the game so much better.

Exploration is the true theme of the game's new "Hero's Path" feature, too. Calling up the in-game map now gives players the option to see the exact path they blazed across the open-world of hyrule for up to the last 200 hours. It's more than a simple overlay -- it has a playback function that draws the player's footpath on the map at various speeds. Not only is this a little nostalgic (Apparently, I had forgotten some of my adventures until the map reminded me), but it's incredibly revealing.

Before using Hero's Path, I was certain I'd explored almost all of Hyrule... but it turns out I'd only looked at most of it from high vantage points. Entire valleys, fields and mountain ranges were untouched by Link's boots. Maybe that's why I can't find the last few dozen shrines. Like the DLC's new items, the paid update's new map mode encourages exploration -- now that you know where you haven't been, you're driven to see what's there.

That's all nice, of course, but by far the biggest selling point of the DLC is the new Trial of the Sword mode: a punishing dungeon segmented into 45 different challenges. Starting the trial strips the player of all of their items, forcing them to complete the dungeon with nothing other than weapons and armor they find within the challenge itself.

It's like a much bigger, unforgiving version of Eventide Island, the core game's survival challenge. It's also great for the same reason: completing each segment of the Trial of the Sword is like solving an in-game puzzle. Figuring out how to survive and make the most of the limited resources feels like an accomplishment -- much like how completing the game's many physics-based shrine puzzles leaves the player feeling smart.

That said, the trial isn't easy, and features some of the hardest gameplay Breath of the Wild has to offer. Worse still, failure hurts -- you only get one life to complete all 45 floors. Fail, and you have to start over from the beginning. It's not completely unfair (there are a few floors that offer rest, weapons and a cooking pot to create healing items with), but it's not for the faint of heart, either.

If that's not hard enough for you, the DLC update also adds a Master Mode -- basically a new "hard" difficulty for the game's main story. I only played a little bit of it, but what I did try was significantly harder. Thought weapon durability was frustrating in the early game before? Well, now it's hard to defeat even the starting area's enemies without at least one weapon on hand. Still, if you're looking for a survival challenge, Master Mode has it aplenty -- and thankfully, it has its own save system, too. Starting a new game on hard mode won't erase your first adventure.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's first DLC pack seems to hold a lot of value. It's genuinely fun, has great challenges, and fits right in with the rest of the game without feeling tacked on. Better still, it's only half of the game's total DLC -- this holiday season, the game will be getting a new dungeon, a new original story and a few other surprises. We've only just scratched the surface of the first pack, but between the two, Nintendo's first major Zelda DLC effort seems to be worth the $20.

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Théoriz recreates the Holodeck with AR tech and projectors

If you had to list the most mind-blowing tech demos in recent memory, Microsoft's Hololens AR headset would need to be included, as would its projector-enhanced Illumiroom. A company called Théoriz from Lyon, France has married both of those things to create a "mixed reality room" that uses projector tech, motion tracking and augmented reality together. Its latest technology demo video made it seem like we're closer to Star Trek's Holodeck than ever before, so we went to take a closer look.

Théoriz is located at the "Pole Pixel," a sprawling collection of studios east of Lyon used by Panavision and other cinema companies. The company's mission is as much artistic as tech-oriented, so the engineers are both bohemian and code-savvy. "We are a team mostly composed of creative engineers," says Théoriz co-founder David-Alexandre Chanel. "Engineers who have an artistic sensibility and also do good code."

To wit, the company has created some very technical and very whimsical projects, including an art installation called "Doors" featuring portals that open up to an infinite space and change perspective as the viewer moves, and "Are You my Friend," an industrial robot that communicates with the exhibit-goers via a keyboard.

Art aside, the mixed reality room tech is impressive. The team tracks the camera (typically a RED model that can record and output in real time) with an HTC Vive Tracker, and feeds the data to a computer running the Unity game engine. That generates digital environments like flying space skulls, a Minecraft-like room with holes that open up on the floor and geometric shapes that interact with actors to form stairs, wells or small hills.

The computer syncs everything together, so that when the camera operator pans or tilts, the Unity scenes tilt or pan to match. Those are then beamed into the room via six projectors -- four for the floors, and two on the walls. At the same time, three Kinect-style 3D cameras, combined with Théoriz's in-house "Augmenta" system, detect the position of the actors so they can interact with the environment. Everything must be processed and played back in real-time by the Unity based system, something that required some clever coding and computing horsepower.

In the resulting videos, live actors interact seamlessly with virtual environments, creating a hallucinogenic effect. "It's called mixed reality because we use and merge things from the virtual world with reality," says Chanel.

For instance, dancers can make the walls "move" with their movements and bat away flying asteroids. In the latest demo video (above), actors interact with bizarre geometric environments, opening up holes in the floor where they move and walking up fake stairs.

Though most of the tech is off the shelf, none of it is intended for consumers -- at least, not yet. For now, the company wants to just sell its services for things like music videos, dance performances, art installations and other live events. At the same time, they're improving the tech to make it more realistic and immersive. "We think that by changing the content creation process, we can open new creative possibilities and achieve unprecedented kind[s] of visuals," says Chanel.

The next project will test everything Théoriz has learned so far, both artistically and technically. "We're trying for the first time to show an artistic video with two dancers," Chanel says. "And they're going to dance and interact in the virtual world, moving through different kinds of totally surreal scenes."

Eventually, Théoriz might make its software available to other companies, but for now it's just trying to make its services more compelling for artists and audiences. "It's a new field," says Chanel. "We still have to evangelize it and create demand so it can eventually find its place." And the best way to do that? "Seduce the audience with something new, poetic and unexpected," he says.

Source: Théoriz

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The rise of electric cars will kill the gas station

Gas stations are a lifeline. They not only fuel our cars but us, too -- whether it's with lukewarm coffee during the morning commute or the salty-sweet buffet during road trips. They're a glowing oasis when the gas tank is empty and our bladders are full. It's going to be a long while before the handy service station goes away, but its days are numbered -- because electric cars are going to change everything.

One of the biggest complaints you hear about electric vehicles is that you can't refuel them the same way as a gas car. That's true now and will be true for a while. DC fast charging and Tesla's Superchargers reduce the amount of time it takes to recharge, but the experience is nowhere near as quick as filling your car with gasoline.

The fact remains, though, that other than having a place to pee and pick up some Cool Ranch Doritos, once you go electric, you're not going to need a corner gas station to charge your future car because you're going to be "refueling" it everywhere.

For many, their home will be the main source of car charging. Even the slow trickle of a 120-volt standard outlet will add 48 miles to the battery of the Chevy Bolt over 12 hours. Obviously using the 240-volt outlet (the one you typically plug a dryer into) will be quicker. For folks who really want to maximize their at-home charging, companies like Charge Point offer Level 2 stations starting at $450 for the home, while Tesla has its own personal wall chargers starting at $500.

That may seem pricey, but if you commute every day and your current car doesn't get the best gas mileage (say, less than 40 mpg) you might come out ahead during the first year of EV ownership according to a handy gas vs. electric calculator offered by GM.

So, in the future, whether you upgrade to a fancy wall charger or just plug your car into the same outlet that keeps your phone topped up, pretty much whenever your car isn't dragging you around town, (and like your phone) it'll be charging. That is, if you have a garage or carport or a very nice apartment manager. The paradox of EVs is that they're great for driving around the city, but many urban dwellers don't have a designated parking space. That's where workplaces come in.

More and more employers are offering charging stations for their staff as perks. "It's very interesting that for basically the price of providing free coffee to your employee you can also offer them electric vehicle charging," Simon Lonsdale, Charge Point's vice president of business development, told Engadget. It's a trend that could continue, too, if workplaces see benefits for EV owners as outweighing the additional cost to their power bill.

Lonsdale did note that at-work charging is becoming an essential piece of a compensation package and a good way to get the word out on EVs. "We see workplaces as a great way of educating consumers about electric vehicles and the benefits of it." Lonsdale said. "We've seen [EV charging at work] rank in the top three benefits that companies are now seeing, as they survey their employees around what are the benefits they like. It's really surprising."

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Like at home, charging a vehicle while it sits in a garage for eight hours makes sense. Plus it could also reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Charge Point, in partnership with northern California utility PG&E, has launched a pilot program to optimize vehicle charging to coincide with when the utility can deploy power from renewable sources like solar and wind.

Charge Point notes that it sees about 80 percent of charging coming from at home or work. But there will be times (i.e., the weekend) when drivers won't have access to their employer's sweet sweet free electrons. That's where retail parking lots come in. Places like Target already offer free charging for customers. For retailers, it's what's known in the business as a win-win.

Customers get to top up their vehicles while shopping, and the lure of free charging gets people in the door -- and in some cases, gets them to linger because they want to get as much free battery power as possible (thus, ironically end up spending more money in the store).

Tesla has 5,000 Superchargers globally and 9,000 destination chargers at retail locations, restaurants and resorts. Charge Point has 35,000 chargers at 7,000 businesses across the globe. In the near future, it's not hard to imagine rows and rows of chargers at malls, restaurants and even in national parks. But there is one scenario where the gas station still reigns supreme: road trips.

While Tesla and Charge Point have made huge inroads getting charge stations along major routes, the ability to quickly refuel and get back on the road still isn't possible. Instead, you're going to have to wait. That means actually sitting down in that fast-food joint or restaurant to eat your food.

As more EVs hit the road, the landscape of parking lots will change along with the amount of gas stations. But it's definitely not going to happen overnight or in the next few years. Gas-powered cars will be sold for decades, and the cars already on the road won't be going away anytime soon.

But there might be a time in the far future where you explain to your grandchildren about how you had to refuel your car -- that wasn't self-driving -- at a special place in town. Maybe they'll giggle thinking about the ridiculousness of putting a liquid in a car. But when you tell them about the selection of beef jerky at this "gas station" their eyes will grow wide, which will be followed by complete disgust as you describe the filthiest bathroom you've ever encountered.

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The high-tech war on Tibetan communication

Each year, March 10th in Tibet brings more police onto the streets, closer online censorship of terms like "Free Tibet" and "Dalai Lama" and a spate of cyberattacks.

"Every March 10th, almost all major Tibetan organizations in Dharamsala are targeted with Distributed Denial of Service and other cyber attacks," said Tenzin Dalha, a researcher at the Tibet Policy Institute, part of the Central Tibetan Administration. Four years ago, that happened to the Voice of Tibet (VOT), a nonprofit media outlet run out of the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, bringing its website down for several days.

The reason for the crackdown is that the date commemorates March 10th, 1959. On that day, rumors spread in the Tibetan capital Lhasa about the impending arrest of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, by the Chinese, who had invaded the territory in 1950. Tibetans rallied to support their spiritual leader and the mass protests led to a violent crackdown. The Dalai Lama and his entourage escaped to India, where he and the Tibetan government-in-exile remain.

When VOT started in 1996, it was one of the few channels of communication between Tibetans and their government-in-exile across the border, as all newspapers, television and other print materials were heavily censored. Using shortwave radio, it transmitted its news service across the border into Chinese-occupied Tibet, both in Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese.

"Of course the Chinese Government tries to jam our program consistently, and we try to fight with them by broadcasting our programs on different frequencies, at different times."

"We are a news organization, and we spend [our time] making stories," said Tenzin Peldon, editor at VOT. "Of course, the Chinese government tries to jam our program consistently, and we try to fight with them by broadcasting our programs on different frequencies, at different times, so if one program is jammed, other ones get through."

China's control of information is key to its control over Tibet. Propaganda has been key in pushing its own version of history -- that the 1959 invasion was a "liberation" and that Chinese rule has been a boon to Tibet -- both at home to the global community. In the following decades, most of the country's Buddhist monasteries and temples were destroyed, while many Tibetans were put into forced labor camps or, in many cases, killed.

Vast mining operations and dams run by Chinese companies are strewn across the plateau but have not benefited Tibetans. Lhasa, once a forbidden, holy city where foreigners could enter only in very limited instances, is now a Chinese-majority city that Tibetans from outlying regions have to get special permissions to enter. Yet as development spread across the plateau and China opened during the economic boom of the 1990s, Tibet appeared seemingly docile and increasingly integrated with the mainland.

This image fell apart in early 2008. It was, again, March 10th. This time, just a few months before China was to welcome the world to the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, decades of discontent erupted into protests in Lhasa, which quickly spread across the occupied country. Tibetan exiles helped to spread images of monks protesting spread online, which, together with a powerful human-rights documentary, triggered protests across the world, and calls for countries to boycott the Olympics.

It was a huge embarrassment for the Chinese government. Martial law was quickly declared, and the years since have seen an even greater clampdown on free expression through the pervasive monitoring of Tibetans, both those inside Tibet and out.

What was once a low-tech information battle over radio waves has now being reshaped by the internet and smartphone access that have spread into Tibet. Yet while China operates the world's most powerful digital-security apparatus, there are only around 6 million-7 million Tibetans in Tibet, and about 150,000 exiles scattered around the world. For the small Tibetan community with limited resources, to face off with Beijing is a David and Goliath situation.

Pro-Tibet demonstrators near the European Union-China summit in Brussels earlier this month.

Reuters/PA Images


The attack on Voice of Tibet four years ago was a common distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, but others have been far more sophisticated.

The scale of China's operation was not clear until a report released by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab in 2009, titled "Tracking Ghostnet." This clearly showed, for the first time, the extent of cyber espionage and how deeply it had infiltrated the Tibetan movement, including the office of the Dalai Lama. For Lobsang Gyatso, this was a major wakeup call.

"The report was a huge eye-opener ... until then, we didn't have proof or an understanding," said Lobsang, the digital-security-programs manager with the Tibet Action Institute. "This made it very concrete and showed it was state-sponsored ... it was pretty clear to us who was behind it."

"Every single organization affiliated with the CTA or with the Tibetan freedom movement in India has been targeted with severe cyber attacks."

Citizen Lab uncovered 1,295 infected hosts in 103 countries across the entire Tibetan spectrum. Signs all pointed to China as the culprit.

"Every single organization affiliated with the CTA or with the Tibetan freedom movement in India has been targeted with severe cyber attacks," said Dalha. "The website of CTA, [in particular] the Chinese website, has been hacked several times."

The most common method of spreading malware was simple –- email attachments. Citizen Lab documented the use of suspicious emails with links to complex malware in a 2013 follow up report on what they called APT1's Glasses, which it sourced directly to the People's Liberation Army in China. Tibetans switched strategies, from sending attachments to using more-secure services such as Google Drive and Dropbox to share files.

"Most NGOs by then had developed this practice of sharing everything with Google Drive," said Tenzin Jidgal with the International Campaign for Tibet. Not too long thereafter, some organizations noticed some of the emails they were getting with Google Drive attachments were being sent from malicious servers including links that led to malware.

This time, however, they were prepared. They shared data with outsiders, such as Citizen Lab, to better understand the problem. It was no accident, but a meaningful, organized response to a genuine threat.

'Free Tibet' banner outside the Beijing National Stadium at the 2008 Olympics.


Leading the fight to protect NGOs from digital threats is the Tibet Action Institute (TAI) founded in 2009.

"We fill a supporting role for others doing advocacy," said Lobsang. "How to make their work more effective, so that there are not attacked, and they are protected."

TAI does not focus on getting users to select the best or safest tools. Instead, it wants people to understand the Chinese threat and make small changes. It models its campaigns after those in the public-health sector, and works both with the exile community and Tibetans in Tibet, making sure they understand how to send information outside the country safely.

"Tibetans in Tibet tend to have this idea: 'If the information gets out, I don't care what happens to me.' It's very courageous," said Lobsang. "But we want to help them get over that mentality, making them understand that [their well-being] is very important to the movement." That often means teaching simple tasks -- helping them understand how mobile networks and SIM cards work -- so that they can use low-risk communication methods.

This behavior change is key to TAI's mission, as a system is only as secure as its weakest link. If regular Tibetans are not secure, then potentially no one is.

"It's more about behavior and understanding security, and making sure you understand once you install an app, what those permissions mean, so you're better informed before doing anything."

"Our focus has been on what tools people are using already, and then what practices that can actually support that to be more secure," said Lobsang. "It's more about behavior and understanding security, and making sure you understand once you install an app, what those permissions mean, so you're better informed before doing anything."

Also key to the effort are partnerships with institutes such as Citizen Lab or other NGOs facing similar threats from Chinese state actors. Since that 2009 report, Citizen Lab has been releasing regular updates on the latest tactics being used by hackers to try to access Tibetans' and Tibet organizations' data, which directly inform TAI's training tactics.

It is a nonstop game of cat-and-mouse. As the Tibet movement's digital-security abilities and training improve, the Chinese government implements more-sophisticated hacking techniques. Members of the Tibet movement credit the integration of digital-security thinking for allowing it to keep pace with threats. According to Bhuchung K. Tsering, Vice President at the International Campaign for Tibet, the everyday use of digital tools requires people and organizations to make security second nature.

"The best thing that we can do is be mindful of what we do all the time," said Tsering. "If we are mindful, then we will be more prepared to take those steps that might prevent the ... Chinese, or anyone else, from getting into our system."

A Tibet Action Institute workshop.


No one really knows what Chinese hackers will attempt next -- it was only a few years ago that China even admitted to having a cyber army. But one thing that worries many is that the most ubiquitous app used in China is also commonly used among the exile community -- WeChat.

At core an instant messenger, WeChat was initially popular with many Tibetans as it allowed, for the first time, regular communication between those still in Tibet and those in exile.

"In Dharamsala, a lot of Tibetans use WeChat to just talk to their friends in groups," said an expert at Free Tibet, a UK-based NGO who preferred to remain anonymous. "By using WeChat outside of China, Tibetans are willingly giving up their security and privacy."

WeChat has serious security issues, and many believe it is readily sharing data with the Chinese government. Citizen Lab found line by line censorship of content when analyzing information flows between India and Tibet earlier this year around the Kalachakra teaching, which China deemed "illegal," held by the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, India.

In China, several Tibetans have been arrested for sharing content deemed politically sensitive on WeChat. While more and more members of the community understand that discussing political topics or sharing images of, for example, the Dalai Lama, can put people at risk of being arrested, Lobsang is worried about something else entirely.

"Information is key. They want to know how the exile community thinks, and from a political perspective, that's a huge plus for them."

"Instead of them coming to hack us, we are going to a platform that is run by [China] in some ways, and sharing all of that information there," said Lobsang. "Information is key. They want to know how the exile community thinks, and from a political perspective, that's a huge plus for them."

Moving Tibetans to a more-secure chat app, such as Signal or Telegram, is a nonstarter due to the challenge of getting enough people to switch simultaneously. So TAI focuses instead on ensuring users understand what types of information WeChat can access, and, if possible, use the app on a separate dedicated phone when communicating with those inside Tibet. But getting users to understand how China could use even the simple, daily, nonpolitical communication to their benefit is a major challenge.

"There's a line that needs to be drawn, but it's hard to get people to understand how the concept of big data actually works," said Lobsang.

Chinese military march in front of the traditional residence of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet.

Getty Images


Tibetans are, of course, not the only targets of Chinese government hackers. While their unique situation puts them in line for scrutiny, more recent targets have included the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and US corporations. China's digital state could even, soon, include Facebook, which has been making overtures to enter the country and is creating censorship software that could make it more amenable to Chinese authorities.

While, at first, for small exile community to face off against a massive digital-security apparatus may seem insurmountable, size actually plays to Tibetans' advantage. The exile community is closely knit, and the near-constant threat of hacking since the 2008 uprising has helped create a culture of security throughout the movement.

"We have become more aware, more informed, and more literate ... about digital security and online security," said Jigdal. "We may be smaller, but if we were able to develop this practice on a day-to-day basis, it spreads faster, and therefore it's more doable."

For VOT, this meant hiring an IT consultant after the initial DDoS attack, conducting in-house training, and working with TAI to improve its own security culture. While its shortwave broadcasts still face jamming, its website has remained online, and information is, against all odds, getting through.

"No matter how much the Chinese repress Tibetans, they can't stop the flow of information."

"No matter how much the Chinese repress Tibetans, they can't stop [the flow] of information," said Peldon. "So even though the Chinese government constantly jam our programs and send attacks to our website, I'm surprised how Tibetans inside Tibet find different ways to bypass the censorship wall and hear us."

Tibetans in exile are more prepared digitally than ever before.

"Tibet Action Institute's awareness-raising work with Tibetans played a big role in making sure that it wasn't worth China's while to continue to spread malware the 'old way,'" said an expert at Free Tibet, who preferred to remain anonymous.

But the big picture still looks dire. Today, the situation in Tibet is deteriorating even more, with Freedom House ranking it the least-free country in the world. Tibetans are facing increased travel restrictions, fewer cultural rights and more arrests for even simple online transgressions.

"A risk from a ... different angle is Chinese online propaganda campaigns that attempt to normalize the current situation in Tibet or drown out social media posts about Tibet that criticize the occupation or attempt to publicize human-rights abuses," said John Jones, campaigns and communications manager at Free Tibet.

The 60th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising is approaching. China is expected to ramp up measures, online and offline, and do all it can to ensure that no protests, either like the ones in 1959 or 2008, or the recent spate of self-immolations, take place in Tibet -- and if they do happen, that the rest of the world won't hear about it. After years of digital fortification, this may be the greatest test of the exile community's ability to go toe-to-toe with a Goliath in cybersecurity.

Image credits: Balint Porneczi/AFP/Getty Images (Chinese and Tibetan flags); Reuters/Press Association (Pro-tibet demonstrations); Wikimedia ('Free Tibet' banner); Tibet Action Institute (TAI workshop); Bernardo De Niz/MCT/Getty Images (Potala Palace).
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