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Posts Tagged ‘ssl’

OpenSSL forked into LibreSSL

OpenSSL forked into LibreSSL

The Heartbleed vulnerability has shone a light on the OpenSSL project, and OpenBSD developers have discovered enough flaws in its code to justify the creation of a fixed fork dubbed LibreSSL.


The OpenBSD project has announced the inevitible outcome of its recent deep-dive into the OpenSSL source code: a full fork of the project, dubbed LibreSSL, to feature a significantly improved codebase.

The OpenSSL cryptographic library made unfortunate headlines earlier this month due to the Heartbleed vulnerability, a nasty bug caused by incautious coding that allowed an attacker to steal memory contents – including, but not limited to, usernames, passwords, and even the entire private key – from any server using the software. With an estimated two-thirds of all webservers using OpenSSL for encryption, that’s a significant target base – and the attack, before it became known to the public, left no trace on the host machine.

OpenSSL is an open source project, meaning anyone can download, examine and modify the source code that drives it. In theory, fans of the open methodology claim, this leads to improved code quality and security – the ‘many-eyes’ theory. In practice, it appears, when an open source project reaches a certain size, individual contributors can become the sole controller of particular sub-sections – with the result that their code goes unchecked by their peers.

OpenBSD is, as the name suggests, an open-source port of the BSD operating system. Designed for maximum security, the project was hit by the Heartbleed bug and vowed to examine the OpenSSL source code more closely in the future. The result has been the exposure of numerous terrifying kludges and bugs in the code – which, it must be remembered, still drives two-thirds of the web – in what has been dubbed the OpenSSL Valhalla Rampage. Having found everything from ‘temporary’ compatibility code reaching back more than a decade to a kludge which uses the server’s private key as entropy for the random number generator – potentially exposing the entire private key to any plug-in RNG used on the system, a major security hole – the OpenBSD researchers have reached a conclusion: OpenSSL can’t be trusted.

The result: LibreSSL, a fork of OpenSSL which benefits from the changes made by the OpenBSD project. Announced on a particularly spartan website – ‘donate now to stop the Comic Sans and Blink Tags,‘ its creators exhort visitors – the LibreSSL project will become the default cryptographic library for the OpenBSD 5.6 release. Initially, that will be the only supported operating ssytem; once the codebase has been cleaned of extant bugs and rewritten to improve maintainability and a source of funding secured, LibreSSL will be extended to additional operating systems.

Whether LibreSSL will improve security overall or simply divert resources that could be better used improving the cross-platform OpenSSL directly remains to be seen.

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Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards

Non-reference graphics cards often have capacitors and VRM circuitry in different places to reference PCBs making it tricky to make universal waterblocks. Alphacool will be soon be able to tailor-make blocks for specific non-reference models.


Alphacool has announced that it will soon be able to 3D-scan graphics cards with non-reference PCBs in order to make custom waterblocks far more easily.

It has made use of a cutting-edge 3D scanner to accurately measure the PCB to allow it to quickly manufacture custom cooling plates that are compatible with a new range of waterblocks.

In addition, it’s offering a free waterblock set for your graphics card (see requirements below) in return for you loaning it to the company. This means it can scan your model and add it to its manufacturing database so others can potentially buy it too.

In the past, if you owned a graphics card with a non-reference PCB – that is one that’s maybe had additional power circuitry added to offer better overclocking or even just a few capacitors moved around, you were very often out of luck if you later wanted to water-cool it.

This is due to the simple reason that it wasn’t worth the time of waterblock manufacturers to go through their usual lengthy production process to create a new waterblock that far fewer people would buy compared to reference models.

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards *Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards
The dimensions will be used to create a custom base plate that cools the memory and VRMs, which attaches to a backplate and universal waterblock that cools the GPU core directly. As the waterblock is universal, you can re-fit it to future GPUs and just buy a new base plate and backplate for the new GPU.

The baseplate is made from aluminium (at no point does it come in contact with the coolant), and Alphacool claims the mosfets on the card will be cooled to the same level as they would be on an air cooled graphics card running its fan at full speed while the core and ram would see a temperature drop in the region of 30-40°C.

The new waterblock range and 3D-scanning service will cater for any Nvidia GeForce 7XX-series model and any AMD Radeon 2XX-series models only at the start, with both reference GeForce GTX 750 Ti and Titan Black waterblock kits available at launch.

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards *Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards
If you’re interested in sending your non reference GeForce 7XX-series or Radeon 2XX-series card to Alphacool, you can contact them directly at www.alphacool.com or via your local Alphacool etailer.

Alphacool will also be producing a unique ‘multi-bridge’ connection system for customers with more than one GPU. The bridge will effortlessly connect the waterblocks as well as letting the customer illuminate the Alphacool logo with 5mm LED’s.

Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards *Alphacool to 3D-scan GPUs to make waterblocks for non-reference cards
To support the modding community Alphacool will be publishing the dimensions of the ‘multi-bridge’ cover so you have the ability to make your own. Also if there is enough demand for a specific brand or logo Alphacool will be making custom covers available.

This could in theory be one way to create a proper water-cooling solution for AMD’s new R9 295X2 as well. Do you think Alphacool’s idea could be useful? Have you had to opt for reference models in the past as you needed to water-cool them? Let us know your thoughts in the forum.

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Goat Simulator Review

Goat Simulator Review

Price: £6.99
Developer: Coffee Stain Games
Publisher: Coffee Stain Games
Platform: PC

Goat Simulator Review

Well, here we have it. The defining moment in gaming. The pinnacle of the form. For the play it was Hamlet, for the novel Ulysses, and for film Citizen Kane. Each took its own medium and elevated it to unrepeatable heights. Now we have our own unrivalled masterpiece, a classic that will be remembered even when the last human on Earth hunches over the dying embers of the final flame. “I was there,” this crooked old man, bent by time and torment, shall whisper to the ether. “I was there when Goat Simulator was released.”

Goat Simulator Review

That’s not a very good joke, I know. But neither is Goat Simulator. As comedy games go, it is the equivalent of daytime TV covering a popular Youtube video. What works perfectly well as thirty seconds of amusement is stretched into half an hour of awkwardly searching to spin it into something more, and ultimately falling back on repeatedly pointing out how funny the original joke was.

Handing you control of one standard-issue Capra Aegagrus Hircus, Goat Simulator plonks you in a small open-world with the simple aim of causing as much destruction as possible. Now even the most nihilistic of goats would usually struggle to do more than churn a farmer’s field into mud before getting its horns hopelessly tangled in a wire-fence. Fortunately for your cloven-hoofed avatar, everything in Goat Simulator’s world appears to be made out of papier-mâché and springs.

Goat Simulator Review

Head-butting a person in Goat Simulator will send them flying across the map like a comet, while doing the same to one of the many stationary vehicles dotted around the environment will cause an explosion that catapults anything nearby into a geostationary orbit, including the twisting, flopping ragdoll of your own goat-y self. In addition, your goat can lick things to attach them to his sticky tongue, things like basketballs, chunks of broken fence, other goats, and the wheels of a fast-moving articulated lorry.

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DayZ Standalone Early Access Review

DayZ Standalone Early Access Review

Price: £19.99
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Publisher: Bohemia Interactive
Date Tested: 26/03/2014

DayZ Standalone Early Access Review DayZ Early Access Review

Note: Early Access Reviews are critical appraisals of games still in development which are charging money for player access to their alpha and beta stages. This review is intended to give you an idea of whether the game is currently worth investing in, but without offering a final verdict.

Take a cursory glance at DayZ and it appears little has changed in the four months since release. The major content Bohemia are planning for the mod; namely vehicles, craftable bases, and broader communication channels such as radios, are still a long way from being added. Investigate a little further, however, and you’ll discover that significant changes have been made, but they’re many and small rather than large and few.

For example, rain was added about a month ago, and now players can catch the water droplets in their canteens, making it ever so slightly easier to acquire this vital resource. In addition, players can aim their guns while sat down, enabling them to sit around a campfire with friends without completely compromising their safety, or keep watch over player prisoners in a more casual, more disturbing manner.

DayZ Standalone Early Access Review DayZ Early Access Review

There are lots of different little channels that feed into DayZ’s remarkable success since it debuted on Steam Early Access at the end of last year. But one of them is this detailed way in which players can interact with their environment and the other players they encounter in post-apocalypse Chernarus. It’s this granularity of experience which Bohemia have been chasing since the Standalone release.

To understand the importance of this, it’s necessary to grasp the basis of what DayZ is, and the developer’s intent behind it. For all its layers of complexity, your ultimate goal when playing DayZ is the most basic possible. Stay alive. Do not die. See that bucket? Avoid kicking it. This is done by seeing to your needs, avoiding the zombies scattered around the environment like organic litter, and performing the delicate and potentially deadly social dance with fellow survivors you’ll inevitably encounter during your travels.

Your objective may be simple, but achieving it is anything but. Resources are scarce, and you require lots of food and water just to keep your body functional. The first hour or so of a DayZ life are a half-terrifying, half-gleeful rush as you frantically scour the nearest village for supplies, interspersed with moments of bravely running away from the prowling zombies.

DayZ Standalone Early Access Review DayZ Early Access Review

If you’re very lucky you might find enough food and water to keep you healthy. More typically you’ll either bleed to death after being attacked by your first zombie, or find nothing but rotten food, eat that in desperation, become sick, and spend the next half hour hopelessly searching for the right medication before ultimately collapsing. This is of course an entirely hypothetical scenario and definitely not what happened to me in my first and second lives.

Learning how to cope in this extremely harsh environment is a big factor in what makes DayZ so compelling. So is learning how to navigate it. Modern games are obsessed with keeping the player oriented, ensuring they always know where they are and where they are going, and there’s something about the challenge of being lost in a wilderness that is paradoxically liberating. The moment you first find a map in an abandoned car or inside a petrol station is breathlessly exciting. Then comes the puzzle of figuring out where you are on it, googling the Russian alphabet so you can translate the town signs written in Cyrillic to match them with the map names scribed in English.

DayZ Standalone Early Access Review DayZ Early Access Review

It helps that Chernarus is an incredible foundation for a game like this. Its sweeping vistas, highly realistic terrain, foreboding climate and dilapidated Baltic settlements all contribute to the sense that this is a world where nature has wrested control back from humanity, but also as a place where hope still lingers. Trekking through one of DayZ’s many forests, watching the sunlight shaft through the canopy, listening to your plodding footfall and the twittering birds in the trees is an oddly relaxing experience, providing relief between frantic zombie combat and tense encounters with other survivors.

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NSA denies prior knowledge of Heartbleed vuln

NSA denies prior knowledge of Heartbleed vuln

The US National Security Agency has denied any knowledge of the OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability prior to it going public, stating it is biased towards responsible disclosure.


The US National Security Agency (NSA) has denied claims that it knew about the Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL before it was made public, claiming that it is biased towards seeing such flaws fixed for the greater good than keeping its knowledge a secret to further its intelligence gathering programmes.

The NSA has been in the limelight of late thanks to revelations by former contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, the source of evidence showing the NSA has been overreaching its charter with massive surveillance programmes against both US and foreign nationals. Documents leaked by Snowden included claims that the NSA works closely with major companies to gain back-door access to code and data, and even works to weaken commercial security products by recommending known-weak ciphers and random number generators.

When news of the Heartbleed vulnerability in popular cryptography library OpenSSL broke last week, many wondered if the NSA was aware of the flaw. Present in the OpenSSL codebase since 2011 and in the wild since 2012, the Heartbleed vulnerability has been proven to leak private keys – allowing the decryption of encrypted traffic, something the NSA captures and stores for several years as part of its intelligence activities.

Many in the industry had wondered why the NSA captured and stored encrypted traffic with no known way to decrypt it, but the Heartbleed bug means that the NSA – or any other attacker – could easily retrieve the private keys required to unlock the encrypted traffic. Suddenly, the NSA’s trove of scrambled data made a lot of sense – leading many to claim on sites like Bloomberg that the NSA knew of Heartbleed and had been exploiting the vulnerability for years.

The NSA has, naturally, denied this. ‘Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability before 2014 are wrong,‘ the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has stated. The denial has been followed by claims made to The New York Times that the NSA and other US intelligence agencies follow a process ‘biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities.

The same article, however, quotes officials as admitting that while President Barack Obama has instructed the NSA and other agencies to follow responsible disclosure practices when flaws are found, there exists a loophole which allows vulnerabilities to be withheld for future exploitation if there is a ‘clear national security or law enforcement need‘ – something critics claim could well have applied to knowledge of the Heartbleed vulnerability, given the NSA’s corpus of encrypted data.

The Heartbleed vulnerability is still being patched, with sites affected by the flaw having to upgrade to a newer release of OpenSSL and revoke and replace their certificates before users can safely change their passwords and, where available, enable two-factor authentication.

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Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?

After a couple of years of mediocre progress, we’re seeing some genuine innovation with cases that are leaning ever more towards water cooling. Pretty much every medium to large case that’s released these days – even smaller mini-ITX ones on occasion – sports double, triple or even quadruple fan mounts, and though these of course boost air cooling potential too, they also allow for larger radiators to be installed.

Manufacturers such as Corsair and NZXT are now in the habit of listing radiator compatibility in their case instruction manuals too – they’re clearly taking it seriously and rightly so. Water cooling is one area of the PC industry that has certainly been growing over the last few years with all-in-one liquid coolers and full-on custom water cooling topping cooler graphs and featuring in many eye candy-filled systems – both modding projects and standard builds alike.

However, there is one small issue with many cases – specifically their radiator mounts. They’re usually designed only for half-height radiators, which lack surface area and thus cooling potential compared to their full-height siblings, and many cases also seem to be listing radiator and water cooling compatibility as little more than tick-box features.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
My point here is that when you try to install a water cooling system in one, there’s so little space that tube kinks become a real issue and there’s also little thought as to where to put pumps and reservoirs. One big factor here is that case manufacturers aren’t actually that concerned with custom water cooling loops (as in separate components connected together at home) and rather more with all-in-one systems such as a Corsair H80i.

It’s not just Corsair and NZXT, who incidentally make some of the best all-in-one liquid coolers out there, that are doing this. After all, you can forgive them for promoting a combination of their own case and cooler, but plenty of other manufacturers are doing it too.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
For instance, I’ve recently borrowed the Lian Li PC-V360 we looked at recently to see how well it can cope with a water cooling system, seeing as it has a dedicated dual 120mm-fan radiator mount in the side panel and is too slim to fit large air coolers.

In short, it wasn’t easy at all and I had to use anti-kinking springs on the tubing for everything to fit inside – and that’s using the skinniest radiator I could find. Also, this turned out to be only just capable of cooling my overclocked Core i5-3570K and GeForce 660 Ti with the fans on full blast, which for me half defeats the point of water cooling, which is noise reduction.

Do case manufacturers really understand water cooling?
Even with an all-in-one liquid cooler things would be tricky, but as we speak I’m in the process of dismantling the system to go back to my trusted BitFenix Prodigy, which is much more water cooling friendly. Of course, that’s my point; some cases do work well with water cooling, the Prodigy being one of them. It’s also far from being a large case – the PC-V360 is taller and deeper but can’t quite decide whether to jump off the fence on the air cooling side or water cooling side.

A lot of the issues, then, revolve around radiator depth, and at the moment, many case manufacturers are content to leave their cases with the bare minimum. You probably can’t blame them to some extent as the vast majority of all-in-one liquid coolers use skinny radiators – one reason why a custom kit with a full-height double or triple 120mm-fan radiator will likely perform much better and quieter with an overclocked CPU.

So, what would I like to see? Better consideration for water cooling enthusiasts for one, but this could just as easily be brought about by all-in-one liquid cooler manufacturers beefing up their radiators too, especially where double fan radiators are concerned. That way, we don’t only get better cooling from their own coolers, but you won’t have to opt for enormous cases or go through the hassle of having to use multiple radiators too. It wouldn’t require massive changes either – a few small modifications to existing case designs could make a world of difference.

How do you think current cases could be improved for water cooling purposes? Let us know in the forum.

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Web hit by OpenSSL ‘Heartbleed’ vulnerability

Web hit by OpenSSL 'Heartbleed' vulnerability

Versions of cryptographic library OpenSSL since 2012 are vulnerable to the ‘Heartbleed Bug,’ which allows an attacker to silently steal the contents of system memory.


Security researchers have released details of a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic library which exposes encrypted internet services to information disclosure attacks.

Continuing a terrible year for information security, what with the verification flaw in GnuTLS and Apple’s infamous goto fail bug, the OpenSSL project has confirmed that versions of its software since 2011 have held a serious vulnerability which has been dubbed the ‘Heartbleed Bug,’ and which can be used to read a system’s memory remotely – gathering secret keys which can then be used to decrypt previously-transmitted information.

It’s a serious flaw; OpenSSL is the standard library for driving SSL and TLS encryption in a variety of software packages and information appliances; Apache and nginx, two of the most popular server packages around accounting for an estimated 66 per cent of all web servers, use OpenSSL; the library is also commonly used in other encrypted systems such as virtual private network (VPN) appliances, point-of-sale (PoS) systems and messaging servers.

The Heartbleed Bug works by exploiting the heartbeat extension of the Transport Security Layer (TLS) protocol; attackers are able to read unlimited system memory in 64KB chunks, with exploitation leaving no trace on the system. These memory chunks can be reassembled and analysed to gather usernames, passwords, encryption keys, and other privileged information which should not be exposed to the public.

The OpenSSL project has confirmed that the code responsible for the flaw has been present in its software since 2011 and available to the public since the release of OpenSSL 1.0.1 in March 2012. Since then, the 1.0.1 branch has become widespread, shipping by default with numerous operating systems including Ubuntu Linux and OpenBSD. While the project has released a fixed version, OpenSSL 1.0.1g, this will take time to distribute – leaving servers with less proactive admins vulnerable to attack.

Ironically, those who have not upgraded in a while may be protected against the flaw: the older OpenSSL 1.0.0 and 0.9.8 branches are unaffected, having been frozen before the bug was introduced.

More details of the flaw are available at Heartbleed.com.

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LG G Pro vs. iPhone 5S? Alternative brackets to March Madness

Star Wars tournament

I think Yoda will handle this one.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

March Madness doesn’t have to be just about basketball. You can get a tournament fix without ever setting eyes on a round orange bouncy object or the extremely tall humans who use it.

Instead, you can bask in a much nerdier alternative tournament where you get to do things like root for Neil deGrasse Tyson versus the Dowager Countess from “Downton Abbey” or cheer on the
iPhone 5S in a pitched battle against the LG G Pro 2.

Welcome to the world of alternative brackets. Here are five to feed your competitive fire, and they have pretty much nothing to do with basketball.

PBS vs. NPR
Who will reign supreme? Philadelphia public media provider WHYY is setting the stars of NPR against the luminaries of PBS. Happy-clouds painter Bob Ross handily defeated voice-of-nature David Attenborough in the first round, but took it on the chin against the Dowager Countess. It’s all about who garners the most fan votes. Round 3 is currently under way. I’m betting it all comes down to deGrasse Tyson taking on Ira Glass in a grudge match for the ages. I give this one to the “Cosmos” host, but just barely.


Highlander DVD cover

“Highlander” already lopped the head off “Conan the Barbarian.” (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Lionsgate)

Science fiction vs. fantasy

Break out the swords, magic, phasers, aliens, zombies, Cthulhu, and Mel Gibson as Mad Max. Geek site io9 is hosting a tournament pitting sci-fi and fantasy franchises against each other — until, like in “Highlander,” there can be only one. This is anybody’s game. We could very well end up with a bloody final match featuring “Star Trek” taking on “Game of Thrones.” Spock versus a direwolf, anyone?

Metrics mania
If you’ve ever wondered how the different colleges in the NCAA basketball tournament would fare against each other using institutional research rather than sports prowess, then the Metrics Mania bracket is for you. You have until the 21st to fill out your bracket and guess which schools will rack up the most scientific and scholarly research paper citations during the tournament. (That’s the simplified version of how this works.) The data comes from Thomson Reuters’ InCites Web-based research analytics platform. Power to the nerds!

Smartphone madness
Laptop Magazine prefers to spend its time arranging fights between smartphones. In a surprise upset, the LG G Pro 2 took out the Apple iPhone 5S early on. The 5C, however, is still in the smartphone tournament, though it must make it past the YotaPhone to advance. Once again, this is all about fan votes. The eventual champion will get a virtual pat on the back, along with a “You done good, smartphone.”

‘Star Wars’
The “Star Wars” version of March Madness features 100 percent more Yoda than the NCAA tournament. The little green guy was triumphant in last year’s This is Madness character tournament. Up for a repeat, is he? Right now, Boba Fett is totally blasting Greedo out of the galaxy, though Liam Neeson is at least putting up a fight against Yoda. I’m sticking with Darth Vader as my dark-horse winner this year.

PBS vs. NPR

This is going to be a close one.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

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Corsair Raptor M45 Review

Corsair Raptor M45 Review – Introduction and Features

Manufacturer: Corsair
UK Price: £44.99
US Price: $59.99

The Corsair Raptor M45 is an upgrade to the Corsair Raptor M40, with an improved 5,000dpi sensor. It could also be considered a cut-price variant of the company’s Vengeance M65 model that uses an optical rather than laser sensor. However, while cheaper than that model it still boasts plenty of other features that mark it out from entry level models – this is still a true gaming peripheral.

Corsair Raptor M45 Review Corsair Raptor M45 Review - Introduction and Features
When we say this is a low cost version of the M65 we really mean it. The M45 sports essentially exactly the same physical design as that model but rather than the metal base of the M65 here it’s all plastic. This doesn’t detract at all from the mouse’s overall look or feel though. On the desk you’d be hard pushed to tell it apart from its more luxurious sibling and all the surfaces of the mouse that you touch feel solid and have nice finishes. The top has a soft-touch coating while the sides have a textured moulded finish to them, which theoretically aids grip and reduces overall sweaty finger-syndrome.

Corsair Raptor M45 Review Corsair Raptor M45 Review - Introduction and Features
Another nice addition is the aluminium scroll wheel. The metal construction doesn’t serve a purpose in terms of adding extra weight for inertial scrolling but it looks the part. The edge is finished with a nice thick and grippy rubber band and the scrolling action has an accurate lightweight feel – perfect for precise weapon selection in FPS games for instance.

Another key feature of this mouse is that it includes a weights system. Three screw-off metal bolts on the underside reveal three tiny metal discs. Each of the bolts weighs 3g and the weights weigh 4g, making for a total possible extra weight of 21g.

Corsair Raptor M45 Review Corsair Raptor M45 Review - Introduction and Features
We aren’t generally fans of weights in mice as we tend to find the lighter the better. As such we ended up removing both the weights and the bolts. However one area where we did see some benefit was in photoshop work where the extra stability provided by the higher weight made tracing round fine objects a little easier. Also, some people like extra weight generally and as far as weight systems go this one seems to do the trick nicely.

One area where the M45 actually trumps the M65 is that it has more lights! As well as the indicator bars for the DPI setting, which sit below the scroll wheel in between the two DPI adjusting buttons, the Corsair logo is also backlit. The lighting is single colour but good quality and we like the choice of red and black – it’s the perfect partner to the matching Corsair Raptor K40 keyboard at the very least.

Corsair Raptor M45 Review Corsair Raptor M45 Review - Introduction and Features
An interesting little quirk of this mouse is that the cable comes from the left side of the front edge, rather than the middle. This doesn’t seem to serve any purpose for the user but simply is a result of the design and construction of the mouse. The cable itself is 1.2m long, which is plenty, and is fully braided, terminating in a matching red USB plug.

Corsair Raptor M45 Review Corsair Raptor M45 Review - Introduction and Features
The base of the Corsair Raptor M45 has five very large PTFE glide pads which provide a wonderfully smooth mousing action. It glided effortlessly over every conventional mousing surface we tried and the sheer area of padding means the pads should last a while. A nice touch too is that each pad has a little notch next to it for easy insertion of a screwdriver or such for prizing off and replacing the pads. How easy it will be to get hold of replacements is a different matter, of course.

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MIT’s super-speedy robot fish makes flashy escape

Robot fish

MIT’s Andrew Marchese and Daniela Rus put the soft silicone rubber outer skin on their robotic fish. The rubber was cast in a 3D-printed mold.


(Credit:
M. Scott Brauer)

Some robot fish we’ve seen wouldn’t be able to escape a predator if their fins depended on it.

Enter the new fish-shaped “soft robot” developed by Andrew Marchese, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. It can execute an escape maneuver called a “C-turn” in about 100 milliseconds, matching the speed of fish in the wild. Such swiftness is one of the things that most sets this robofish apart.

Soft robots are machines that have gushy exteriors and move around through the use of fluids or gases pumping through vein-like internal tubes. They’re of interest because they don’t hurt when they bump into people (nor do they scratch the furniture). “We’re excited about soft robots for a variety of reasons,” Daniela Rus, one of the researchers who designed and built the fish, said in a statement. “As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you.”


Like a robot fish to water…


(Credit:
Video screenshot/CNET)

The fact that the fish can perform an escape maneuver “is really important for the field of soft robotics,” Marchese said in the below MIT video about the invention. “It shows that soft robots can be both self-contained and capable of high performance. The maneuver is so fast and it’s got such high body curvature that it shows soft robots might be more capable than hard robots in some tasks.”

The robofish consists of a hard control module that stores the electronics and a carbon dioxide canister in its head and abdomen. From here, two inflatable tubes travel down each side of the fish to its tail. These tubes have nozzles that feed them carbon dioxide. The opening of the nozzle controls how fast the fish moves, while the amount of tube inflation controls the angle at which the fish changes direction. The electronics module also contains a receiver that allows it to be controlled wirelessly, and the entire robot is covered in soft, waterproof silicone rubber made from a 3D-printed mold.

The novel gas-though-tube-controlled movement differs from other robotic fish we’ve seen, like the one invented at the U.K’s University of Bath, which moved thanks to an undulating fin on its underside.

Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, said a normal robot with hinged joints couldn’t possibly move so fast and that the unique propelling mechanism of the robofish — inflating and deflating internal tubes with carbon dioxide — gives it a distinct advantage over its land-dwelling clunky cousins. “The fact that the body deforms continuously gives these machines an infinite range of configurations, and this is not achievable with machines that are hinged,” she said.

Currently, the robofish can only swim for a few minutes before it runs out of gas. The researchers are working on a new version that should last up to a half-hour and will use water to pump through the tubing in the fish’s body to propel it.

Of course, the MIT crew didn’t build their robot with the thought of lazy fish-tank owners in mind. In addition to pushing along the science of soft robotics, Rus believes the invention can also help wildlife scientists conduct research, by having it swim along with schools of fish while collecting data about their movements and habits like this robofish invented by an engineering professor at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

Additionally, “we also view this research as a first step toward creating soft robots that can operate in human-centered environments,” Marchese told Crave. “We are especially interested in developing a new kind of soft hand and manipulator that embodies the materials and principles demonstrated by the soft robot fish.”

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