Overwatch Halloween Terror Event has Started



The Overwatch Halloween Terror 2017 event started on October 10, 2017, and will end on November 1, 2017. Some pieces of the event had been leaked prior to its start day. Blizzard Entertainment now has a page full of official information about it.

For the next three weeks, we’re celebrating the spookiest time of the year with a seasonal event. Expand your collection of seasonal-themed items and relieve a chilling tale in our PVE brawl: Junkenstein’s Revenge.

This year, we’ve added a new endless mode for Junkenstein’s Revenge, with leaderboards to commemorate those who last the longest in their fight against the evil doctor. Plus, unlock over 50 seasonal items – including the new legendary skins like Dracula Reaper, Van Helsing McCree, Totally 80s Zarya, and Dragon Symmetra – alongside last year’s Halloween Terror gear.

In Junkenstein’s Revenge, you can team up with three other players and fight Junkenstein and his Monster, along with other enemies such as the Summoner, the Reaper, and Witch of the Wilds.

The Endless Night event is new this year. Play as one of four additional heroes: Genji, Torbjorn, Widowmaker, or Zenyatta. The goal is to survive as long as possible against wave after wave of enemies and bosses that assault the castle doors. Those who survive the longest will earn a spot on the all-new leaderboard.

Overwatch players can now purchase a Halloween Terror Loot Box. They are filed with new skins, emotes, highlights, avatars, sprays, voice lines, and more. It is also possible to buy items that you missed from last year’s event with credits for a discounted price. Blizzard states that there are over 140 cosmetic items available. As you might expect, the Halloween Terror Loot Box will only be around for a limited time.


Two New Rokus for UK



After a very long wait, Roku are bringing two new models to the UK market with the Roku Express and Roku Streaming Stick+.

While North America fans have enjoyed new models for over a year, the UK has lagged behind with long-standing Roku 2 and 3 models: owners of 4K TVs have had to look elsewhere for their ultra high definition fix. Fortunately the new Roku Streaming Stick+ supports both 4K and HDR up to 60 f/s.

Taking a quick look over the two models, the Roku Express is the second generation of the model and is perfect for standard HD TVs with HDMI. Connectivity is provided by b/g/n wifi and there’s an IR remote, so you will need line of sight to control the Express.

The new star of the show is the Roku Streaming Stick+, delivering 4K UHD with HDR via 802.11ac dual-band MIMO wifi. The advanced wireless remote allows the stick to be mounted behind the TV, plus there are now buttons to turn the TV on/off and control the volume.

To showcase 4K content, a 4K Spotlight Channel will offer instant access to 4K movies and TV shows from various streaming channels. Both remotes have channel shortcut buttons too.

The Roku Express is one of our most popular streaming players and we are excited to bring it to the UK. It is a great starting point for first time streamers or for people looking to extend the Roku experience to other TVs,” said Chas Smith, general manager of Roku TVs and players. “Consumers will love our new sleek Roku Streaming Stick+ with an innovative advanced wireless receiver that gives up to four times the wireless range and a remote that controls TV volume and power. At £79.99, it makes HD, 4K and HDR streaming simple.

Of course, the free complementary Roku app for iOS and Android provides all the usual Roku features including streaming media from a mobile device to the TV, remote control, voice search and private listening.

Available from 18th October online with retail availability shortly afterwards, the Roku Express costs GB£29.99 whereas the Streaming Stick+ comes in at £79.99. Put one on your Christmas list.


DiskaShur 2 Secure Encrypted Portable Hard Drive



Laptops are data gold mines that criminals love to target. Due to my regular travel schedule, I have always put the majority of my media on external secure drives. I have used just about everything in the book when it comes to encryption and many of those tools are painful to use and often slow. For many years I carried an external Hard-Drive that required a biometric finger swipe to unlock. It was always a pain as I would have to swipe three or four times to get it to unlock. The folks at iStorage contacted me about there new DiskaShur 2 Secure Encrypted Hard Drive and over the past two weeks, I have been using it while on travel.

This is a device that I am honest requires few words to explain how to use it but the details of what it does is simply incredible. The DiskaShur 2 they sent for review was a 500gb drive that unlocked by entering an 8 digit pin and clicking unlock on the drive.  The instructions to change the default pin are clear and concise and foolproof so that you will not brick the device in the process. It works with any operating system that can attach a drive via USB 3.0

But what blew me away was the level they go to encrypt the data on the Hard-Drive and protect the data once it’s copied to the drive.  This thing is like Fort Knox just reading the security precautions they put in place, makes you realize that this product is in a class of its own. Let me try to summarize the features and in all honesty to get the full perspective you need to read their full product page.

  • EDGETM (Enhanced Dual Generating Encryption) Technology – built-in FIPS PUB 197 validated AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption engine. The data encryption key is randomly generated by a Common Criteria EAL4+ ready Random Number Generator and protected by FIPS validated wrapping algorithms.
  • FIPS PUB 197 Validated Encryption Algorithm – Employing AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption, the iStorage diskAshur2 seamlessly encrypts all data on the drive in real-time, keeping your data safe even if the hard drive is removed from its enclosure.
  • USB 3.1
  • Brute Force Hack Defence Mechanism – That destroys all data on the drive after a set number of incorrect password entries.
  • Drive Reset Feature – Which employs a useful drive reset feature, which can be implemented with a unique command. This clears all PINs and data and resets the drive to be redeployed.
  • Unattended Auto-Lock Feature
  • Tamper Proof Design – Any hacker trying to get to the electronics as everything is covered in a tough epoxy.
  • Data at rest protection – All data, PINs, and encryption keys are always encrypted while at rest.
  • Wear Resistant Epoxy Coated Keypad – Prevents keypad wear in allowing someone to determine keys utilized

So far as performance goes when the drive is unlocked it is fast and there is no slow down in copying information to the drive. But with a single click I can lock the drive down or in the worse case scenario I can enter the self-destruct pin and all data is cleared from the drive and is non-recoverable.

iStorage DiskaShur 2 Hard Drive Prices starting at around $210 dollars you really cannot go wrong. If you do not want to carry an external drive they also have USB sticks that employ the same technology. My goal is to make it hard as possible for a criminal to get to my data. So while my laptop may be the main target in a room robbery. Even if they get my secure hard-drive they are not going to spend the time and resources to get the information as they really put forth some incredible security barriers to do so.  This is the security product that you will find being carried in my computer bag where I can be at ease, knowing that my data is secure.


Call of Duty Halloween Scream Event has Started



Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has added a bunch of fun, Halloween related, things to the game. The event is called “Willard Wyler’s Halloween Scream” and it will last until November 1, 2017.

A press release states that this community event will allow players to acquire all-new Halloween-themed loot, to participate in XP-boosting events, to play through a new zombies mode and to receive exclusive free items that are only available during the event.

The Halloween Scream event includes:

  • Free Halloween-themed cosmetic item every Friday, along with one final gift on October 30, 2017.
  • Halloween-themed gear and loot, including brand-new zombie-themed Rig skins, available to earn
  • “Boss Battle” mode, which starts on October 13, 2017. It allows players to take on their favorite final bosses from each of the Infinite Warfare zombies modes. It begins with the first chapter, Zombies in Spaceland, and continues with the following chapters becoming available, two per week, ending with the ultimate battle in The Beast from Beyond. (Players must own DLC packs to access DLC chapters.)
  • Return of Gesture Warfare multiplayer mode to celebrate Halloween, which runs now through October 12, 2017, and allows fans to use gestures to humiliate and annihilate their opponents.
  • Carnage, a fan-favorite multiplayer map from the Retribution DLC pack, free to play and with double XP for all players from October 12, 2017, through November 1, 2017.


Keep Prying Eyes Away with the InvizBox 2



Perhaps I’m just old and suspicious, but I’m increasingly concerned about the personal information that I give away to companies like Google and Facebook for their services. I’ve had enough of being the product. As for the information gathered surreptitiously by third parties, such as ISPs and government agencies, I’ve had enough of snooping and I don’t accept that if I’ve nothing to fear, I’ve nothing to hide. It’s simply none of their business.

Consequently, I’m working on a couple of strategies to mitigate my exposure, including some fake personas for simple things like compulsory registrations. While I’m not a social media superstar, I’m present on most social media platforms and it’ll take time to balance out the public and private. Fortunately in the UK, it’s not illegal to take a new identity unless the intention is criminal (so I’m told).

On a more practical side, I’ve already signed up for protonmail.com to secure my email correspondence and I’m going to move away from the big name providers in a gradual process. The other area of interest is VPNs and for those who aren’t in the know, a VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It hides your activity from the owner or maintainer of any local network connection – think of it as an opaque pipe within a transparent tube – so it’s good for protecting against both nosy ISPs wanting to sell your browsing history, and defending against nefarious activity on public wifi hotspots.

I’ve been tinkering with some of the software-based VPNs both for both mobile and home use as my ISP provided-modem/router doesn’t have any VPN capability. Software solutions are fine if you have one or two devices, but when you’ve umpteen tablets and laptops in the house, it’s a pain.

An alternative is a dedicated VPN hardware solution and this Kickstarter campaign from InvizBox caught my eye. Simply, the InvizBox 2 is a wireless access point that connects to your home router, and then encrypts all the traffic over a VPN (or the Tor network). There’s no need for individual configuration as everything that connects to the access point benefits from the VPN. Your local ISP is then completely unable to track your activities and sell them on. Even better, the ISP can’t throttle your traffic based on type of use, or use of competing services.

Obviously these are benefits enjoyed by all VPNs, but as a neat hardware package, the InvizBox 2 looks attractive. Other features on the InvizBox 2 include ad blocking and parental controls. The latter is useful as the VPN will bypass any controls implemented on your router or by your ISP, so you might need to defend against inquisitive teens. You can get round geo-blocking too – that’s where you can’t see some content because you are visiting from the wrong country. As with most VPNs, a regular subscription is required (allow around US$5 / €5 per month) but there are some deals there too.

The standard InvizBox 2 is currently at €109 and the Pro is €149 if you get in quick, both with a year of VPN service. Other deals are available and delivery is expected in April next year. The team has already hit their goal of €50,000 and there’s still a week to go, so the project is going to be funded. As background, the InvizBox team are based in Dublin, Ireland and have a track record of delivery from previous Kickstarters, so there’s a good level of confidence. However, as with all Kickstarter campaigns, consider yourself a patron rather than a customer until the product is in your hands.

I might actually plonk down some cash for this….


AIM Will be Discontinued in December



AOL has announced that it will be discontinuing AIM effective December 15, 2017. In a post titled “One Last Away Message”, VP of Communications Product at Oath, Michael Albers, revealed the sad news. The reason for discontinuing AIM is because they way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed.

If you were a 90s kid, chances are there was a point in time when AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was a huge part of your life. You likely remember the CD, your first screenname, your carefully curated away messages, and how you organized your buddy lists. Right now, you might be reminiscing about how you had to compete for time on the home computer in order to chat with friends outside of school.

The post continues by noting the use of AIM in popular culture, including in “You’ve Got Mail” (starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks) and in the “Sex and the City” TV series. In the late 1990s, the world had never seen anything like AIM. Today, both technology and social media have changed, and so has how we communicate with each other.

On a help page, AOL says it is excited to focus on building the next generation of iconic brands and life-changing products. It also makes it clear that there currently is not a replacement product available for AIM.

Current users of AIM can continue to use it until the morning of December 15, 2017. It is possible to view and save your chat history.

AOL says that in some cases, the ability to do that may depend on whether you previously disabled the option to save a copy of your chats on your computer, or if you or your buddy selected the “Go off the record” option. If you want to save your chat log, you must do it before December 15, 2017. It is not possible to save or export your Buddy List.


Netflix is Raising the Prices on Two of its Plans



The Associated Press reported that Netflix is raising the price for its most popular U.S. video streaming plan by 10 percent. This change is going to affect most of Netflix’s 53 million U.S. subscribers.

As you might expect, the Netflix US Twitter account has been busy answering questions about the pricing change and clarifying things. The pricing change hasn’t happened yet. Netflix users will start getting emails about the pricing change on October 19, 2017, or after. Your email might arrive 30 days out from your billing date.

Netflix tweeted that the new prices are $7.99, $10.99, and $13.99. Netflix offers three streaming plans: Basic, Standard, and Premium. The Verge provided a good explanation of the price changes:

The standard tier, which allows subscribers to watch on two screens at once, will be bumped up from $9.99 to $10.99 per month. The premium tier, which is available in Ultra HD and allows users to watch on up to four screens, will go from $11.99 to $13.99. The Basic $7.99 per month plan will remain the same.

In other words, people who have the Basic Netflix plan will not see a change in price. Those who have either the Standard or Premium Netflix plans will see a change in price and will be paying an extra $1 or $2 per month for their Netflix plan beginning on, or sometime after, October 19, 2017.

The reason for the price increase appears to be so Netflix can continue to make original content.


Blizzard’s Battle.net App Adds Appear Offline Feature



Blizzard Entertainment announced the new social features that are now available in the beta version of the Blizzard Battle.net desktop app. The one that is likely going to get the most attention is the ability to appear offline.

The Appear Offline feature allows you to set your status to show you as “offline” to your Battle friends while remaining connected to Battle.net. You can launch the app and game away without distraction. That being said, it’s not exactly a “cloak of invisibility”:

Appearing offline will show you as offline to everyone in your Blizzard friends list. Once you have joined a game, the experience of appearing offline might be slightly different depending on which game you are playing. In the case of World of Warcraft, your guildmates will see your character come online and enter WoW’s in-game chat channels, and anyone who has you as a character-level friend will see you online on their friends list. Everyone outside of the same game as you will not see you online or playing any games.

Based on that description, it looks like players won’t be able to use the Appear Offline feature to avoid dealing with guild drama. That feature also won’t help a player to avoid a guildmate who has made them uncomfortable or who has been harassing them.

Another new change allows a player to send a message to a friend who is offline (or appears to be offline). Players who are using the Appear Offline feature can send and receive messages in the app. Blizzard points out that this allows players to decide when they want to respond to those messages. This is a step in the right direction, but it would also enable a mean person to quietly harass someone.

In addition, the beta Battle.net desktop app has a new Social Tab for managing all your various social interactions. Blizzard Groups is a new way for you to connect with your friends and plan your next mission.

Players can create and join Groups based on their common interests. Each Group can have multiple text and voice chat channels, and Group administrators will have tools to manage memberships, invites, and more. To me, this sounds like Blizzard is competing with Skype, Discord, and other similar things people currently use to talk to their friends in-game.


Blizzard and DeepMind Announce StarCraft II AI Workshop



Blizzard Entertainment is the creator of StarCraft II (and several other popular video games). They have teamed up with DeepMind, the world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact. Together, the two will co-host the StarCraft II AI Workshop.

The workshop is an opportunity for AI researchers, academics, bot programmers, and industry professionals to get together, exchange ideas, and collaborate on all things AI, utilizing the recently-released StarCraft II Learning Environment and StarCraft II API as a development platform.

The event is described as BYOC, meaning that you need to bring your own computer. Attendees will be provided with power drops, dedicated wireless internet access, and a catered lunch. Engineers and researchers from Blizzard and DeepMind will meet with attendees and answer questions about SC2LE and SC2API.

Space is limited. Those who want to attend need to apply by filling out a questionnaire. A final group of attendees will be selected out of the applications. The workshop will take place November 3 and 4, 2017, at the Hilton Anaheim hotel. The workshop is not part of BlizzCon (which will be happening at the same time in the Anaheim Convention Center.)


SAG-AFTRA Reaches Tentative End to Video Game Strike



SAG-AFTRA has reached an agreement to end the strike against 11 video game companies that has been waged since October 21, 2016. The tentative agreement was reached on September 25, 2017.

The terms of the tentative agreement include a new bonus structure that provides an additional payment to performers (voice actors). The bonus payment, which is due no later than the release date of the game, is based on the number of sessions worked on each game, beginning with a $75 payment on the first session and totaling $2,100 after 10 sessions worked.

SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris pointed out that a secondary payment structure was one of the members’ key concerns. Keythe Farley, chair of the SAG-AFTRA Interactive Negotiating Committee noted that the bonus payments they have now are significantly larger than what they had 11 months ago.

Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez was lead manager on the new contract. He said: “The new transparency provisions will enhance the bargaining power of our members’ representatives by requiring the companies to disclose the code name of the project, its genre, whether the game is based on previously published intellectual property and whether the performer is reprising a prior role.”

He continued, “Members are also protected by the disclosure of whether they will be required to use unusual terminology, profanity, or racial slurs, and whether there will be content of a sexual or violent nature and whether stunts will be required.”

The contract will be reviewed by the SAG-AFTRA National Board at its October meeting.The new terms take effect upon ratification.

Kotaku reported that the SAG-AFTRA strike was against game companies like Electronic Arts, Disney, Insomniac Games and Take Two. Kotaku also reported that the voice actors’ request for two-hour limits on sessions that require voice strain (such as screaming) is not part of the tentative contract.