Disney buys Lucasfilm, plans to release ‘Star Wars: Episode 7′ in 2015 (update)

Lucas Disney

Star Wars fans, you might want to sit down for this one — The Walt Disney Company just announced its plans to purchase Lucasfilm Ltd from George Lucas, with plans to release Star Wars: Episode 7 sometime during 2015. While there aren’t any release dates yet for Episodes 8 and 9, those films will be coming as well — and the studio has even more beyond a new trilogy planned for the future.

The deal is a stock and cash transaction, with Lucas receiving about half of the $4.05 billion value of the deal in cash plus some 40 million stock shares. “”It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers,” Lucas said in a statement. “I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was…

REVIEW: new fully-fledged iPhone / iPod touch Camera app enhancer CameraTweak

You may have used the excellent third-party AppStore apps Camera+, 645 PRO, SloPro, Better Camcorder (see THIS for more info on the latter two) or FiLMiC Pro (quick review & tips). Or, for that matter, my (iOS 4-only) video enhancer tools for the iPhone 3GS / 4.

You may have noticed apps in the AppStore all offer their own interface as they are not allowed to directly add additional interface elements, buttons etc. to the stock, built-in Camera app. My previous tweaks don’t do this either – they need to be run before starting Camera to set your video recording preferences.

The $1 (that is, cheap) CameraTweak is the first app that doesn’t suffer from these problems. It adds a new icon in the lower button bar of the stock Camera app coming with the app. It’s via this icon that you can access most of its advanced features like video resolution, still timed shot etc. setting. As with all powerful tweaks, it’s only available on jailbroken iPhone / iPod touch models running iOS5+ (don’t even try installing it on the iPad!).

Basically, it has most of the features the above-mentioned apps offer: timer mode and time lapse mode in stills mode, resolution and frame rate setting in video mode and exposure & white balance locks in both. (See the complete feature list below, in the Cydia screenshots, or on the official Cydia page) It’s highly recommended. Below, after the Cydia / GUI shots, I present a long, video-specific compatibility report (the photo tweaks worked just fine).

 

 

Cydia info pages)

(The additional controls in stills mode; note that the white balance lock icon is hidden beneath the new icon bar!)

(The additional controls in video mode; it also has white balance locking)

1. Test results: the iPhone 4S

Being the latest still-jailbreakable model (as opposed to the newer but non-jailbreakable iPhone 5), I’ve very thorougly tested the latest version of the tweak on the iPhone 4S. This entire section discusses the results. The other two sections discuss the iPhone 3GS and the iPod touch 4.

1.1 720p 60 fps

As the iPhone 4S is capable of recording true 60 fps footage in 720p (that is, 1280 * 720; the resolution currently selected in the last screenshot above), I tested it very thoroughly.

Unfortunately, as with both SloPro and Better Camcorder (again, see THIS for a complete elaboration), this tweak doesn’t allow for utilizing the full vertical resolution over anything 30 fps. That is, only use 720p60 (or, again, anything over p30) if you don’t mind the significantly worse vertical resolution. (As this mode doesn’t use pixel binning, the horizontal resolution isn’t halved.)

1.2 Frame-per-second changes in 1080p modes

In 1080p, I’ve thoroughly tested the lower-fps video shooting as well. 1, 15, 20, 24, 25 and, of course, the stock 30 (29.97) fps worked OK. 5 and 10, however, didn’t – they recorded a footage with around 0.6 (true) fps.

Still in 1080p, as you may have already guessed based on my earlier writeups, anything over 30p results in a recording that has no video at all, only audio.

That is, the only nonstandard framerates you should use in 1080p mode are 1 fps or anything over 14.

1.3 Lower resolutions

Lower resolutions (720p, 960*540, 640*480 and 352*288 as opposed to the native 1080p) didn’t exhibit resolution problems like halved resolution.

Note that NONE of these modes were able to record at anything over 30 fps – it seems to be only working at 720p.

1.4 Non-16:9 video modes

It seems the aspect ratio icon (the rightmost one in video mode) has absolutely no effect on the recording on the 4S – the phone will record exactly the same 16:9 and 4:3 footage in 960 / 1280 / 1920 and 352 / 640 modes, respectively, as without enabling / touching it, regardless of this setting.

The only effect I could find was displaying semi-transparent regions on the sides to show what will be cropped out of the edited footage, should you later crop off the two (1920-1440)/2=240-pixel-wide leftmost / rightmost areas during post processing to make your originally 16:9 footage truly 4:3; that is, 1440*1080.

2. Test results: the iPhone 3G S

On the 3GS,

- you can’t use higher framerates as 30 fps in the native VGA or the (only available other) 352*288 resolution.

- as has just been hinted on, only 352*288 and VGA can be used.

However, other tweaks seem to work OK.

3. Test results: the iPod touch 4G

- all resolutions up to 720p can be used – but, of course (the sensor not having more pixels than 720p), not the 1080p.

- no higher framerates than 30 can be used.

Supercomputer simulates the heart with record accuracy

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

A visualization of how Cardioid simulates the heart

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Sequoia, currently the world’s most powerful supercomputer, was built for upkeep of nuclear weaponry. But researchers have put it to work on a groundbreaking simulation of something a bit more salutary: the human heart.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, already well-known for work in high-performance computing, has commandeered the Sequoia supercomputer during what is known as its “shakedown period,” when it’s being set up and tested but isn’t quite ready to for its intended purpose. LLNL and other organizations were given time-share access to the computer to do approved non-classified research.

Supercomputing is a competitive field, but for the moment Sequoia is the fastest on Earth: with more than 1.5 million computing cores producing 20 quintillion operations per second, it allows the researchers to simulate the heart at a far greater fidelity than ever before.

LLNL computational scientist Art Mirin describes the project: “Our heart code work has been a great opportunity to demonstrate Sequoia’s power with an application that most people consider important to society, in this case, cardiac modeling.” So it’s not just about digitizing the heart, but also about humanizing the computer.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Another view of the Cardioid simulation, showing electrical stimulation

The simulations divide the heart into thousands of little digital pieces, each composed of mathematical models that take input from and send data to other pieces. Their interactions require an enormous amount of calculations, even though the model only simulates electrical activity, not physical.

The best that could be done before was to simulate pieces about 0.2mm across, and it could take 45 minutes or so to simulate a single beat. With new software called Cardioid running on the Sequoia supercomputer, not only can they simulate more accurately (the pieces are 0.1mm across, about the size of an actual heart cell), but also hundreds of times faster: now a virtual heartbeat only takes 10 seconds to create.

This huge increase in performance makes many things practical: virtually testing arrhythmia drugs, for instance, or establishing baseline patterns against which real hearts can be compared. And since heart disease is such a major health risk, especially in the U.S., an accurate electromechanical model of the heart is essential for future research in many other fields.

LLNL researcher David Richards described the potential benefits to Popular Mechanics:

At a very coarse level of resolution, everyone’s heart looks the same. The details that differentiate individual hearts can be very fine, and our ability to model at extraordinarily high resolution, currently a factor of eight greater than previously, that allows us to capture very fine differences.

The time at Sequoia is running out, and the supercomputer will be running programs for the Stockpile Stewardship program, intended to ensure the country’s nuclear warheads remain “safe, secure, and reliable well into the future.” The researchers will have to fall back on less-powerful machines – still far faster than even the fastest desktop, but not quite world-class – to continue their research. But the powerful Cardioid simulation code will still allow for faster and more accurate simulation than before.

Further developments in the heart-simulation department at LLNL, as well as other applications of supercomputing power, should appear in their internal Science & Technology publication.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.

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A More Comfortable Backpack

Have you checked out the backpacks kids are carrying to school lately? The amount of stuff that high school kids have to tote around is ridiculous. And – in the case of my Freshman nephew – if the locker is not nearby the classrooms they are stuck schlepping all books with them. Or how about college students? Maybe your dorm is across campus from where you need books. Backpacks have been proven to be a smart way to tote stuff. But seriously, even a good pack leaves users with big shoulder loads.

A company named Airbac (also seen written as Airbak) took the backpack concept a little further with their products. Airbac technology incorporates an adjustable air bladder system into the lumbar area of their backpacks. Load up your pack and inflate or deflate the bladder as needed. Airbac helps spread the weight over your entire back, putting less strain on shoulders. And the air bladder offers natural protection for breakables you may carry. Each pack contains numerous pockets and compartments to accommodate books, laptops, gadgets, pens and other goodies. Double stitch nylon construction and the puncture resistant bladder means Airbac units will last. Models exist for many uses: school, business, travel and sports. And for the photographers out there, check out Airbac camera bags. Prices start at $49.99 on Airbac’s website. So stop by and find the solution for you and let Air(bac) take away cargo strain.
[ A More Comfortable Backpack copyright by Coolest Gadgets ]

Halloween-inspired iPad Cases and Stands are All Treats and no Tricks

Maybe you’re already planning to dress up your with your iPad this Halloween — if so, don’t forget to send us pictures! If you want something a little subtler, but still celebratory, consider these iPad cases and stands, which will make celebrating Halloween more fun, while remaining useful throughout the year.

Be spooky in style with Spiderpodium, an arachnid-inspired iPad stand manufactured by the UK-based Breffo. Created from steel covered in ‘SoftTouch’ rubber, the stand comes in black or grey. Though lightweight and portable, the stand provides solid support for an iPad. Spiderpodium is for sale on Breffo’s website for $34.99.

Zazzle offers an astonishingly large selection of iPad cases for every interest and purpose. This goofy jack-o-lantern is one of many options that will spruce up an iPad on Halloween. The design is added to a Speck Fitted Fabric-Inlaid Hard Shell case, which is available from Zazzle’s website for $56.20.

Etsy’s HoobyGroovy has cooked up a variety of clever iPad cases that celebrate Halloween with a splash of color and a dose of humor. Check out Brainz the Zombie — a cerebral hemorrhage has never been more adorable. This and several other ghoulishly creative options are available from HoobyGroovy’s Etsy site for $54.95.

If you’re looking to protect your iPad from scratches and dings and as you arm yourself with knowledge from the otherworldly realm, then Cafe Press homage to the Oujia Board is just the thing to show off your spiritual side this Halloween. The case, which is available from the Cafe Press website for $39.50, is created from durable, shock-absorbing neoprene, this case fits easily into a backpack, or even a trick-or-treater’s pillowcase. Just don’t lose your iPad under all that candy!

Are you looking for case that works for Halloween as well as the rest of the year? Consider the HHI Snap on Protector Hard Case, which retails on Amazon.com for just $8.99. The case works with Apple’s Smart Cover, as well as keeping the back of your iPad safe from scratches and fingerprints.

Do you include your iPad in holiday decorating by changing your screen’s wallpaper or changing your case? Do you have an iPad or Apple-themed Halloween costume or decoration to share? Let us know in the comments.

Introducing The EcoXBT: The Toughest Speakers To Beat!

EcoXBT

Welcome to a whole new world of rugged mobile gear! Meet the EcoXBT: The premier rugged mobile Bluetooth speaker you can take anywhere and do anything with. The XBT is a heavy-duty and gnarly-as-all-get-out, mini boom box for all of your EcoXtreme adventures!

 

I’ve covered EcoXGear’s line of high-quality products for years now, and its safe to say, they have garnered quite the reputation for bringing out some of the best, extreme-rugged, mobile gear on the scene. The XBT is their latest addition to a quality product line, and an adventure’s dream come true.

Siva's Reviews: ECOXBT. Rugged and waterproof portable Bluetooth speakers.

 

When I got my first look at the EcoXGear XBT, I was immediately and thoroughly impressed with the speaker’s rugged, sturdy and thoughtful design. Every detail was carefully tended to and nothing has been overlooked. The XBT has to be the all around most versatile and rugged Bluetooth speaker I have ever come across.

 

Siva's Reviews: ECOXBT. Rugged and waterproof portable Bluetooth speakers.

 

If you are looking for an external speaker that can be completely submerged with no damage done, a device that will even float gracefully on the water’s surface, then you have to check out the XBT.

 

The XBT is the perfect accessory for all you water lovers out there! Truly, if you like to spend time around the water on a regular basis the XBT is an audio system worth checking out. It has awesome sound, it’s ultra-portable, it has an integrated grippy silicone skin giving traction when wet, as well as big bold handles to help you grab it easily when it’s bobbing away on the current. I suggest using a lanyard if you take it with you swimming anywhere there is a current, be it river, creek or sea.

 

Siva's Reviews: ECOXBT. Rugged and waterproof portable Bluetooth speakers.

 

I’ll tell you what, these speakers provide a hefty dose of sound, and considering the fact that they are 100% waterproof they deliver a rich crisp and clear sound. If I had a criticism it would be that out of the box, the XBT is little skewed towards the mid and upper range tones. It’s not that the bass is entirely lost, but it is a bit murky and a bass refinement could definitely help. Then again, it is a waterproof, relatively compact, ruggedized Bluetooth speaker! I think Grace Digital did a great job designing the XBT and that the extra space it would take to generate a deeper bass response is better used reinforcing and waterproofing the structure of the unit. In fact, the XBT is bit big and heavy for my taste as it is, I would rather not see it get any bigger in the name of more boom.

 

I spent many years living on a sailboat, and I’ve also camped and romped outside regularly since I was a wee lad. I speak from my experience in the field when I say that these speakers aren’t just good for waterside adventures, they are great! I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find a better alternative for waterproof Bluetooth portable audio. Tell me if you do! For now though, the XBT gets my highest praise as the best rugged and waterproof, portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

 

Siva's Reviews: ECOXBT. Rugged and waterproof portable Bluetooth speakers.

 

The EcoXBT is available in three colors, red/black, orange/black, and all black. You can purchase it for $130.00 HERE.

Apple Announces Latest Financial Results

Apple has announced its latest financial results for its fiscal fourth quarter of 2012 which ended on the 29th of September, and they posted a quarterly revenue of $36 billion and a net profit for the quarter of $8.2 billion, or $8.67 per diluted share.

Apple also announced details on how many of their various products they have sold, with a total of 26.9 million iPhones sold, which is 58 percent up on the same time last year.

Apple