Category Archives: Technology

Waves of Internet Outages

Hundreds of websites — including those of biggies such as Netflix, Twitter and Spotify — on Friday fell prey to massive DDoS attacks that cut off access to Internet users on the East Coast and elsewhere across the United States.

Three attacks were launched over a period of hours against Internet performance management company Dyn, which provides support to eight of the top 10 Internet service and retail companies and six of the top 10 entertainment companies listed in the Fortune 500.

The first attack against the Dyn Managed DNS infrastructure started at 11:10 a.m. UTC, or 7:10 a.m. EDT, the company said. Services were restored at about 9:00 a.m. Eastern time.

The second attack began around 11:52 a.m. EDT and was resolved by 2:52 p.m. The third attack, which started around 5:30 p.m., was resolved by about 6:17 p.m., according to Dyn’s incident report.

“This is a new spin on an old attack, as the bad guys are finding new and innovative ways to cause further discontent,” said Chase Cunningham, director of cyberoperations for A10 Networks.

“The bad guys are moving upstream for DDoS attacks on the DNS providers instead of just on sites or applications.”

Dyn “got the DNS stuff back up pretty quick. They were very effective,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The Severity of the Attacks

While the attacks were “pretty large,” they “didn’t bring anything down for very long,” Cunningham noted.

Still, without confirmation from Dyn or ISPs, “it’s only possible to speculate on the severity of this attack,” said Craig Young, a computer security researcher at Tripwire.

“It is, however, reasonable to assume that the attackers controlled a considerable bandwidth in order to take out a service known for its resiliency against this type of attack,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Getting the bandwidth to launch the attack has become easier with the proliferation of the Internet of Things. Cybercriminals and hackers increasingly have roped IoT devices into service as botnets to launch successive waves of very large DDoS attacks.

“Threat actors are leveraging insecure IoT devices to launch some of history’s largest DDoS attacks,” A10’s Cunningham noted.

Manufacturers should eliminate the use of default or easy passwords to access and manage smart or connected devices, he said, to “hinder many of the global botnets that are created and deployed for malicious use.”

Who’s Pulling the Strings?

A nation state or states might be preparing to take down the Internet, cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier recently warned, and “if there’s a threat actor out there with this goal, DNS infrastructure would be a very natural target to expect,” Tripwire’s Young pointed out.

Another possibility is that the attacks could be a publicity stunt for a new threat actor launching a DDoS as a Service business, he suggested, in which case someone will claim responsibility for the attacks “in coming days or weeks.”

Whats Come for Windows

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event, scheduled for Wednesday, actually could focus more on hardware than on the operating system, given that the next Windows 10 refresh is expected in March.

A new Surface device — possibly an all-in-one computer with a 21-inch or larger screen — could be in the offing.

Whether Microsoft will unveil updates to its Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book devices or showcase products from its OEMs has generated some debate.

Windows Insiders have been testing new Windows 10 features, including trackpad innovations, noted The Verge. It might announce a F.lux-like feature to reduce blue light in Windows 10, as well as a new HomeHub smart device control feature. Further, Microsoft might bring its Holographic shell to Windows 10 PCs.

What Makes Sense

“It’ll be a hardware event,” predicted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“This is the expected refresh of the Surface product line,” he told TechNewsWorld, because “all that Surface stuff belongs to the Windows 10 group.”

Although some of the speculation may be groundless, “the all-in-one device makes a certain amount of sense because Microsoft hasn’t had a desktop Surface product yet,” Enderle pointed out.

“The smart money’s on the fact that they’ll probably have a Surface all-in-one, and the Surface Book and Surface Pro will probably be upgraded,” he said. “It’s about time.”

Improvements in battery life, higher-resolution screens, better touch technology, and “a better overall stylus experience” probably will be unveiled, Enderle suggested. “Everybody has improved their stylus resolution and screens have been getting better.”

However, don’t expect the Surface Book or Surface Pro to get any thinner, because “they’re already pretty thin and will run into thermal limits,” he noted.

The Surface all-in-one PC “is what’s most likely to be announced,” R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, also said.

Expect deeper integration with Cortana services, Microsoft’s Power BI and more, he told TechNewsWorld..

Moving into AR, VR and Games

Microsoft also might push virtual or augmented reality, Wang suggested. “Look for the battle for VR and AR to continue. With the rumors of the iPhone 8 integrating VR and AR, this is a chance to pre-empt Apple.”

Microsoft might make “some type of announcement to counter Nintendo’s Switch with their devices,” he noted, “but we’re not sure if this will happen.”

The Nintendo Switch is a new home gaming system unveiled last week. It can be used in single player and multiplayer modes, and it lets gamers play the same title wherever, whenever and with whomever they choose.

Marketing Works

Redstone 2, the Windows 10 update scheduled for March, will have several new features, according to Wang, including an Office hub, better Bluetooth GATT support, onDemand sync with Microsoft OneDrive, interoperability among devices, and gaming services to the devices.

Windows 10 had a 22 percent share of the global operating systems market in September, according to Netmarketshare. Windows 7 continued to dominate with 48 percent.

Microsoft reported that revenue from Surface products grew 9 percent year over year in constant currency in fiscal Q4 2016, driven by sales of the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.

Sales totaled US$965 million, but Microsoft didn’t state how many units were sold.

Opens Door to New Dirty

A Linux security vulnerability first discovered more than a decade ago once again poses a threat, Red Hat warned last week, as an exploit that could allow attackers to gain enhanced privileges on affected computers has turned up in the wild.

Users need to take steps to patch their systems to prevent the exploit, known as “Dirty Cow,” from granting access to unprivileged attackers.

“This flaw has actually been in the kernel for a better part of a decade — what’s changed isn’t the vulnerability itself, but rather the manner in which it’s being exploited,” said Josh Bressers, a security strategist at Red Hat.

“As attack methods have become more sophisticated, hardware has become faster, and the kernel [has become] more predictable, a bug that was once thought to be impossible to exploit is now possible to exploit,” he told LinuxInsider.

Out of the Shadows

Linux security researcher Phil Oester rediscovered the flaw while examining a server that appeared to have been under attack, he told V3.

A “race condition” was found in the way the Linux kernel’s memory subsystem handled copy-on-write breakage of private read-only memory mappings, Red Hat explained in last week’s security update.

Unprivileged local users could use the flaw to access otherwise read-only memory mappings and increase their privileges on the system, the update states. The issue affects Linux kernel packages as shipped with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5,6,7 and MRG 2.x.

Shipping versions of Fedora are also affected, and Fedora is aware of the flaw, the warning notes.

Red Hat advised users running affected versions of the kernel to update as soon as patches become available, adding that a system reboot will be required to make sure the kernel update is applied.

A patch for customers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.2 or greater will be available, according to the company. For several other versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, an active Extended Update Support subscription will be required to access the patch.

Users who don’t have an active EUS subscription will have to contact Red Hat sales representatives, the company said. For those using Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.2, 6.4 and 6.5, an active Advanced Update Support subscription will be required for access to the patch.

Possible Consequences

“The major risks are that an attacker exploiting this — and there has been an identified attack in the wild via HTTP — would be able to replace known binaries, including the replacement of core system applications, compilers and various publicly exposed systems — SSH daemons, Web servers, and so on,” said Kevin O’Brien, CEO of GreatHorn.

“From a risk perspective, the age, ease of exploit, and reliability of this particular vulnerability is particularly concerning,” he told LinuxInsider.

Seeing a CVE of this magnitude, when combined with an in-the-wild implementation, makes this a critical issue for any systems administrator, O’Brien said.

That said, since the code must be executed on a local system and not a network, it’s a two-step process for the attacker, noted Red Hat’s Bressers.

“Given that most modern IT environments do not allow local untrusted users, it’s a serious vulnerability, but one that requires effort on the part of the attacker to exploit,” he explained.

A Little Realism

Watching TV shows often requires the suspension of disbelief — that is, a willingness to press pause on one’s critical faculties in order to believe the unbelievable. Realism often must be secondary to story, in other words. This very often is necessary when computers are used to advance plot lines, when programmers and hackers alike can bang away on their keyboards and produce tremendous results in seconds.

One need look no further than such shows as The Blacklist or Scorpion, which feature keyboard cowboys who can hack into systems at the drop of a hat, hook into GPS systems, or employ some other technobabble gimmick to track the badguy and save the day. This use of computers has been commonplace as long as computers have been around.

“The patterns are not just with recent tech –20 years ago, MacGyver was doing very unlikely tech things, as did the A-Team and so many others — just with different tech,” said Jim Purtilo, associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland.

“A brief suspension of disbelief has helped storytellers since well before Shakespeare,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Impossible TV

What can be done with a computer on some TV shows requires more than a basic suspension of disbelief. In some cases, what fictional computer whizzes can accomplish borders on the miraculous.

With many TV shows, it’s likely that accuracy isn’t the writers’ primary concern, said Jay Rouman, a computer network engineer who has worked with computers since the late 1970s.

“I stopped watching Scorpion after they had a convertible chase a commercial jet down the runway with an Ethernet cable dropped out of the jet,” Rouman told TechNewsWorld.

Beyond the fact that the takeoff speed of the jet could be well over 200 mph, the fact that the cable was even so readily available could be something that occurs only in the imagination of a TV show writer.

“It just happened to be on board and plugged into the master computer,” recalled Rouman. “I’ve been in data centers where couldn’t find an Ethernet cable that would give you Internet connectivity!”

Brave New World

A new wave of TV shows have been creating more realistic situations, ditching the meaningless technobabble for more accurate computer jargon. Instead of murky plot devices, actual programming is displayed.

TV shows such as AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and HBO’s Silicon Valley focus on the exploits of computer programmers — with the former highlighting the first tech boom of the 1980s and the latter taking place in the modern day.

The shows are very different in tone. Halt and Catch Fireis a workplace drama with soapy elements, while Silicon Valley, which was created by Beavis and Butt-Headcreator Mike Judge, follows the more traditional comedy formula.

Yet computer programming is key in both shows. Each is full of realistic jargon, and close observers will see actual code on the screens, which certainly has made the shows appealing to those in the world of tech.

“The culture around technology is also magnificently depicted in Silicon Valley,” added Purtilo.

“Sure it is stylized, just as any cartoonist must emphasize a subject’s few key features in order to tell a story — but they get it right,” he explained.

“Maybe we don’t know specifics of Pied Piper’s fabulous compression algorithm, but I’ve watched a room full of geeks self-segregate around ‘tabs versus eight spaces’ or ‘vim versus emacs’ questions,” Purtilo observed. “It’s hilarious because that is what we do, and accurate details just help us project ourselves into those situations more readily.”

Magnificent Mics For Compact Computers

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that’s emerging from the shadows of this mind-crushingly terrible election season to pore over the latest gadget announcements.

On our ballot this time around are a microphone that can plug into an iPhone or iPad, a smartphone case with an E-ink display, and a flexible keyboard that houses an entire computer.

As ever, the ratings reflect only how much I’d like to try out each item with my hands, ideally before the world descends into post-election chaos. These are not reviews.

Portable Podcasting

I’ve tried dipping my toes into the world of podcasting with a friend this year. It’s been challenging to find times that work for both of us to get together and record, but for the two (pretty successful, I confess) trial runs we’ve had, I bought a Blue Snowball mic. I’m very pleased with the sound quality, so I’m fairly certain I’d be happy to have Blue’s latest microphone, Raspberry (pictured above).

It’s a gorgeous, portable little thing, which you can connect to a PC or Mac using a USB cable. However, it is also bundled with a Mini USB to Lightning cable to make it easy for you to capture quality audio using an iPhone or iPad.

There’s an included stand with shock-absorber feet, so that should help cut down on unwanted vibrations and rumblings. When taking the mic elsewhere, the stand folds over it for better portability. If you prefer, you can attach Raspberry to a standard tripod or mic stand instead.

The mic also has a headphone jack, headphone volume dial, and a level/gain control that doubles as a mute switch. That can come in especially useful if you need to cough — much better to cut out an unwanted sound during recording instead of in the editing process.

It’s a bit pricey at US$199, though I haven’t seen a better option for recording clear audio when on the go without having to lug around a laptop and bulkier microphone. Maybe I’ll finally be able to start podcasting with my friend again, once I find a time that works for both of us and a quiet spot away from home, unencumbered by noisy neighbors.

Dual-Screen Delights

I’ve written previously about YotaPhone, the Android smartphone with an e-ink screen in the rear. It’s a tremendous concept, as I tend to dislike reading at length on my phone’s regular screen.

The InkCase i7 from Oaxis is an attempt to bring such functionality to the iPhone 7 through a case. (The company previously released e-ink cases for earlier iPhone models.)

Features include a 4.3-inch screen, support for EPUB and TXT formats and notification display. It connects to your phone over Bluetooth. You can use it to display images, but you’ll need to make do with monochrome versions of your favorite photos, of course.

Endangers Windows Users

Google on Monday posted to the Internet a previously unpublicized flaw that could pose a security threat to users of the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Google notified both Microsoft and Adobe of zero day vulnerabilities in their software on Oct. 21, wrote Neel Mehta and Billy Leonard, members of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, in an online post.

Google has a policy of making critical vulnerabilities public seven days after it informs a software maker about them. Adobe was able to fix its vulnerability within seven days; Microsoft was not.

“This [Windows] vulnerability is particularly serious because we know it is being actively exploited,” wrote Mehta and Leonard.

However, Google’s Chrome browser prevents exploitation of the vulnerability when running in Windows 10, they added.

Flaw Not Critical

Microsoft challenged Google’s analysis of the Windows flaw in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Charlotte Heesacker.

“We disagree with Google’s characterization of a local elevation of privilege as ‘critical’ and ‘particularly serious,’ since the attack scenario they describe is fully mitigated by the deployment of the Adobe Flash update released last week,” Microsoft said.

After cracking a system, hackers typically try to elevate their privileges in it to obtain access to increasingly sensitive data.

“Additionally, our analysis indicates that this specific attack was never effective against the Windows 10 Anniversary Update due to security enhancements previously implemented,” Microsoft noted.

The Windows vulnerability Google’s team discovered is a local privilege escalation in the Windows kernel that can be used as a security sandbox escape triggered by a win32k.sys call, according to Mehta and Leonard.

The sandbox in Google’s Chrome browser blocks win32k.sys calls using the Win32k lockdown mitigation on Windows 10, which prevents exploitation of the sandbox escape vulnerability, they explained in their post.

Short Deadline

Although Google contrasted Adobe’s quick action in patching its zero day vulnerability with Microsoft’s inaction, the comparison may be less than fair.

“The time to patch code in Adobe Reader or Flash versus something that integrates into an operating system is considerably different,” said Brian Martin, director of vulnerability intelligence at Risk Based Security.

What takes time is not so much changing the code as testing it after it’s changed, he explained.

“If Microsoft patches code in one version of Windows, it will likely affect several other versions,” Martin told TechNewsWorld.

“Then they have platform issues — 32-bit and 64-bit — and then the different versions — home, professional, server, whatever,” he pointed out.

“The amount of time it takes to patch it is one thing,” he said. “The amount of time to go through the full QA cycle is another. Seven days is generally considered unrealistic for an operating system.”

To Disclose or Not

The short deadline was necessary because it saw the vulnerability being exploited by hackers, Google’s team maintained. That logic, though can be a two-edged sword.

“To me, this doesn’t ultimately help achieve everyone’s goal, which should be keeping consumers and their data safe,” said Udi Yavo, CTO of enSilo.

“By disclosing a vulnerability early, without allowing time for a patch, Google opened up the small pool of people who found the vulnerability and knew how to exploit it, to all,” he told TechNewsWorld.

However, keeping the vulnerability under wraps at all is questionable, suggested Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Considering how closely the hacker community communicates, seven days may have been too much time,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Google was being a friendly corporate citizen by letting Microsoft know about the vulnerability, but in my mind it would have been more appropriate to make it public knowledge once you see it in the wild,” McGregor said.

Theories in the Information Age

One of the most volatile conspiracy theories in recent times ended with a whimper last month, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made the terse statement, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”

Though birthers may be with us always, it seems that many have turned their attention to other potentially scandalous topics — and they need look no further than the place most conspiracy theories are born these days, the Internet.

Scientists recently made a discovery that might explain why Trump’s search for President Obama’s “real” birth certificate resonated with his supporters — those most drawn to his promise to “make America great again.”

Highly stressed people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, according to research published this spring in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Based on the responses of 420 U.S. adults surveyed, stress and discontent correlated with a higher likelihood of belief in conspiracy theories ranging from 9/11 being an inside job to the moon landing being produced on a Hollywood set, researchers found, regardless of the participants’ social status.

That offers some insight into why some people are more likely to believe, but it does not explain why they push away a preponderance of evidence in favor of the generally accepted answers to questions most people don’t even ask.

There always have been conspiracy theories, noted pop culture expert Paul Levinson, a communications professor at Fordham University, who pointed to all the wild ideas that emerged in the aftermath of the JFK assassination.

Social media have fanned the flames, making conspiracy theories more likely to spread, he said.

“Anyone can write anything, and it can be viewed by millions in the blink of an eye on Twitter. Millions can, in turn, easily retweet the comment or image or link,” Levinson told TechNewsWorld.

At the Intersection

One of the most popular conspiracy theories — one that’s likely to outlive this generation and the next — concerns the untimely death of Princess Diana in a 1997 automobile accident. That event occurred squarely at the intersection of two eras, spinning one of the first major series of conspiracy theories of the Information Age.

Suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident intrigued the world. Back then, newspapers were still alive and well, birds were the only ones tweeting, and posting meant sending mail.

Author and self-described Diana fanatic Roman Clay recalled how old-school TV and print media coverage of the princess’ death focused on certain details and missed many others.

Clay was surprised by the common perception that Diana had died immediately in the tunnel, as well as by the many other details that generally were unknown — for example, that it took 108 minutes to “rush” her to the ER, and that she passed away due to internal hemorrhaging.

“There were a few writers who questioned the official report and wrote investigative books on Diana’s death, but they received very little coverage in mass media,” Clay told TechNewsWorld.

So Clay, using the freedom fiction allows to fill in the blanks, wrote Death of the Queen of Hearts to publish his own theory and encourage more people to question the official line.

Coverage of the princess’ death certainly would have been a lot different had it occurred a decade or so later. These days, individuals can express themselves to a large audience over the Internet, and that’s definitely a plus, Clay said.

“Researchers into Diana’s death would be able to present the facts quickly and widely,” he noted, “but that easy access to the Internet also permits some outrageous theories that bring in aliens or lizard people, which thereby dilutes and buries other serious investigative research.”

Magical Mi Mix On Xiaomi Debut

images-43Tuesday fired another shot in the shrinking bezel wars, as it announced a smartphone with a front that’s more than 90 percent display.

The Mi Mix is a 6.4-inch phone that’s stylishly crafted by French designer Philippe Starck. It sports a feature set that indicates Xiaomi wants to compete at the high end of the smartphone market.

“For many years, Xiaomi has had a reputation of copying designs and branding from Apple and Samsung,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“This phone breaks with those designs,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“One factor for success is trying to get the greatest possible screen area into the smallest possible footprint,” Rubin said. “This design comes close to the ideal of an all-screen phone.”

The Mi Mix has a screen-to-body ratio of 91.3 percent. That compares to 67.7 percent for Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus.

Real Estate Grab

To expand the Mi Mix’s display, Xiaomi grabbed the real estate at the top of the phone occupied by the front-facing camera, ear speaker and proximity sensor.

It did that by moving the front-facing camera to the bottom of the phone, and replacing the ear speaker with a piezoelectric speaker that uses the metal frame of the phone to generate sound. It also replaced the infrared proximity sensor found on most phones with one that uses sound.

The proximity sensor turns off a smartphone’s display as the device approaches the ear. Most phones use an infrared sensor at the top of the phone to do that. The Mi Mix uses ultrasound waves and software to do it.

“We use the sound transmitter that’s already inside the phone,” explained Guenael Strutt, vice president of product development at Elliptic Labs, maker of the ultrasound technology, which it calls “Inner Beauty.”

“The sonic wave echos off the head, is picked up by a microphone, and the data is processed by our algorithms inside the phone,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We use components in the phone to detect the head — we don’t have to add a new sensor.”

Using sound to detect proximity also avoids issues that make infrared sensors unreliable from time to time, such as weather conditions or skin and hair coloring.

Top-Shelf Play

In addition to its eye-catching display, the Mi Mix has a 16-megapixel camera with phase-detect auto focusing, a generous 4,400 mAh battery, two SIM slots and a Snapdragon 821 processor. It supports high-definition audio with a 192 Hz/24-bit DAC chip, which users can listen to through a standard headphone jack.

Although the Mi Mix is officially a concept phone, Xiaomi will start selling it in China next week. Models with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage will be priced at US$516, and those with 6 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage will sell for $590.

“Xiami lost a lot of traction in China as Vivo and Oppo strengthened their position in the lower end, and Huawei and Apple took the high end,” said Carolina Milanesi, a principal analyst at Creative Strategies.

“I see the new Mi Mix concept phone as an attempt by Xiaomi to recapture the higher end of the market and reposition itself as an innovator,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Xiaomi already is a top global contender because of its performance in China, and it wants to challenge Huawei in the West as best-performing Chinese brand.

“If this phone really goes up for sale in the West, it might jump ahead of the iPhone in terms of sexiness and design appeal,” Newzoo CEO Peter Warman told TechNewsWorld.

Just the Beginning

It’s unlikely the Mi Mix will be made for the mass market, though, in Milanesi’s view.

“Chinese consumers love large screens, and the quality of the display looks fantastic,” she said, and “$520 is in line with their pricing strategy of delivering a high-end experience at an affordable price.”

That said, “it will be interesting to see what supplies will be, as I have a feeling that these phones are more focused on revamping brand than growing sales,” Milanesi added.

Xiaomi might be wise to sell as many Mi Mixes as the market will bear as fast as it can before competition heats up.

More designs like the Mi Mix will start appearing in the next 12 months, said Daniel Matte, an analyst at Canalys.

Sources AI Toolkit Of Microsoft Will be Open

Microsoft this week released an updated version of its Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit as an open source Beta.

The deep learning system is used to speed advances in areas such as speech and image recognition and search relevance on CPUs and Nvidia GPUs. It also works with Microsoft’s Azure GPU offering.

The Microsoft computer scientists who developed the toolkit initially were looking for a tool to speed up and improve their own research. Initially called “Microsoft/CNTK,” it morphed into an offering that Microsoft customers and flagship product groups depend on for a wide variety of deep learning tasks, the company said.

Deep learning is an artificial intelligence technique developers and researchers use to process large amounts of data, called “training sets.” The software teaches computer systems to recognize patterns from inputs such as images and sounds.

The toolkit is available on GitHub via an open source license.

“The toolkit’s scalability and availability as an open source project are both pluses that should spur interest and use,” noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

What It Does

With the update, Microsoft changed the name from “CNTK” to “Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit” to reflect an offering that is more broadly based and has new capabilities, said Microsoft spokesperson Casey Johnson.

“Our vision is to democratize artificial intelligence for every person and organization. We made Cognitive Toolkit open source so it is easily available to every developer who wants to build great AI applications,” she told LinuxInsider.

The latest version of the toolkit includes new functionality that lets developers use Python or C++ programming languages in working with the toolkit. With the new version, researchers also can do a type of artificial intelligence work called “reinforcement learning.”

Who It Targets

Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit is designed for researchers and developers who need machine learning and neural network tools to create artificial intelligence applications, Microsoft said. The toolkit provides users with greater flexibility and extensibility.

The upgrade delivers better performance than previous versions. The improvements focus on speed when working on big datasets across multiple machines. That speed boost is needed to support the deep learning process across multiple GPUs used to develop consumer products and professional offerings.

The toolkit’s ability to work across multiple servers is a key advantage over other deep learning toolkits, according to Microsoft. When used on bigger datasets, other software products are subject to performance degradation. Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit has built-in algorithms to minimize that computational slowdown.

The toolkit helped the Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research team create a technology that recognizes words in a conversation as well as a person does, according to Microsoft.

Mixed Bag

It appears that Microsoft has made substantial progress in speech recognition accuracy, Pund-IT’s King told LinuxInsider.

On the minus side, it is a fairly narrow solution in and of itself, he suggested. Other cognitive ecosystems, such as IBM’s Watson, offer far richer and deeper resources for developers.

Surprising Touch to MacBook Event

Apple on Thursday unveiled two new MacBook Pro laptops, adding a touch more power to the line.

Both the new 13-inch and 15-inch models will be offered in silver and space gray. They have a Touch Bar that replaces the row of function keys found on laptops, as well as a Touch ID fingerprint scanner incorporated into the power button. They sport a Force Touch trackpad that’s twice the size of the trackpad in previous models.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro is 14.9 millimeters thick, 17 percent thinner than its predecessor. It’s also smaller — 23 percent by volume — and at 3 pounds, it weighs half a pound less than the previous version.

The 15-inch unit is 15.5mm thick, 14 percent thinner than previous models. It too has a smaller footprint than its previous generation, 20 percent by volume, and it tilts the scales at 4 pounds, also a half pound lighter than its predecessor.

Both units have an improved version of the “butterfly” keyboard introduced in Apple’s 12-inch MacBook, as well as a key dedicated to Apple’s digital assistant Siri. They also have four Thunderbolt USB-C ports that can be used for a variety of tasks, including charging the units.

“Four Thunderbolt ports are a tremendous amount of bandwidth,” said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“You can support two 4K displays, a 4K camera and an external storage array all at the same time with the 15-inch MacBook Pro,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That’s a lot of power.”

Brighter, Faster, Louder

The MacBook displays also have been upgraded. For example, the screen on the new 15-inch model is 67 percent brighter, with a 67 percent greater contrast ratio and 25 percent more colors.

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro runs on a 6th generation Intel Core i7 quad processor with 2133 MHz memory. It has Radeon Pro graphics based on AMD’s Polaris architecture. It can deliver graphics 2.3 times faster than the previous generation of the laptop.

The unit now supports up to 2 terabytes of solid state storage, and it’s faster — 50 percent faster than the previous model.

The speakers also are better. They not only produce greater volume, but also have two times the dynamic range of previous models.

The new 13-inch model runs on 6th generation i5 or i7 Intel chips, also mated to 2133 MHz system memory. It has Intel Iris graphics, as well as storage speeds twice those of its predecessor.

Touch Bar

The Touch Bar feature on the new MacBook Pros definitely was the star of the Apple’s Thursday show.

The bar is a high-resolution touch display that replaces the function keys on the laptop. The display is context aware, so it can change its content based on the application running in the foreground of the computer.

“It’s a disruptive new implementation,” said Werner Goertz, a research director at Gartner.

“It’s not new to see a dynamically adaptable bar,” he told TechNewsWorld, “but as usual, Apple has taken something that’s already out there and perfected it.”

The bar acts almost as a second monitor. Items can be dragged from the main display to the bar.

“That’s something that will capture the user’s imagination and will be a great differentiator for Apple going forward,” Goertz said.

The Touch Bar is a game changer for Apple, according to Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

“It allows not only Apple, but also developers to create custom connections to their applications, and make those applications more interactive and easier to access,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Apple emphasized the role of the MacBook Pro for creativity,” Bajarin continued, “but that Touch Bar will be extremely attractive to even mainstream consumers, because it changes how they interact with applications.”

Apple TV

Along with the new MacBook Pro announcements, Apple revealed a new app for Apple TV and iOS aimed at unifying a user’s TV experience.

Called “TV,” the free app displays an aggregate view of all shows and movies the user currently is watching through other apps. It also recommends programming based on the user’s tastes. It provides access to a library of iTunes purchases and rentals, and a store for buying more content.

“We want Apple TV to be the one place to access all of your television,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Thursday event.

With 1600 apps available for Apple TV, it’s become necessary for someone to step in and make it easier to discover and organize content, explained Bajarin.

“The new TV app is designed specifically for that purpose,” he said.