Augmentation & Protection

Our Augmented Future

Google Glass, Oculus Rift, and Microsoft HoloLens

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It’s an interesting time for wearables. The Fitbit and similar exercise trackers have become nearly ubiquitous, and a new generation of smart watches are poised to make an even bigger splash. But companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft are betting the next huge breakthrough technology will not be strapped your wrist- instead it will be perched on your head.

Many credit the Oculus Rift for jump-starting a renewed interest in head-mounted 3D. The Rift itself is a large headset that combines a visual display for each eye with a new generation of head tracking technology to create a 360-degree immersive experience: one that’s especially well-suited to 3D video games. After their first developer’s kit was bolstered by an incredibly successful crowdfunding campaign, Oculus partnered with legendary game designer John Carmack — himself responsible for breakout games like Doom and Quake — to bring the system to maturity. Then in 2014, the project was acquired by Facebook in a multibillion dollar deal. The first consumer-ready Oculus model is expected sometime this year.

Meanwhile, Google was taking a different approach. Their experimental Google Glass, worn like or in conjunction with traditional glasses, hoped not to replace your field of view, but to augment it. Overlaying text notifications, driving directions and similar information in a smartphone-styled format, Glass was meant to be worn regularly and throughout the day. However, this design also gave rise to privacy concerns — mostly due to the built-in camera — and new safety considerations for drivers and pedestrians wearing the device who could find themselves distracted by the overlaid screen. In early 2015, the Google Glass prototype has stopped production, but Google hopes to return with a new generation later in the year.

Finally, in a surprise January announcement, Microsoft revealed their HoloLens, which borrows some aspects of both the Oculus Rift and Google Glass for a new hybrid approach. Contained in a translucent headset, HoloLens is a big leap toward true augmented reality. Unlike Google Glass, it is not designed to be worn throughout the day, but for specialized tasks that require a higher level of immersion. And unlike the Rift, it doesn’t block out the world around you, instead overlaying 3D elements that co-mingle with your actual physical environment. Early testers have been excited by the possibilities it creates from games to virtual prototyping to remote customer support, but whether it finds a true “killer app,” and finds its way into your home or workplace remains to be seen.

Protecting Your Mac from Malware

Are Apple users really at risk — and what can be done about it?

It seems like every year a few new alarming announcements are passed around blog posts, articles and tweets trumpeting the end of the Mac’s legacy of security and virus immunity. Thunderstrike! WireLurker! But are we really at DEFCON-1? And what can we do to stay safe in a world of evolving security concerns?

First, the good news – with advanced under-the-hood technologies like Protected Memory, App Signing, GateKeeper and XProtect, the Mac is still the most secure home computer you can buy. But the bad news is most security threats don’t target technological vulnerabilities — they target human ones.

Fraudulent email that appears to come from your bank, investment company, or your internet service provider — often coupled with websites that look identical to the real thing — can trick you into revealing sensitive information. Unsolicited “tech support” phone calls can come from unscrupulous companies looking to charge a small fortune to remotely access your computer for “troubleshooting,” “virus removal,” or other shady purposes. And innocuous-looking software – often branded as “tune up” and “antivirus” programs – can sometimes have malicious or ad-infested payloads that they download as well. These are all ways a well-meaning user can accidentally open the door to malicious software, and there’s little a computer itself will be able to do about it.

For us all, good security starts with good user practices. You should only let someone work on your computer that you’ve vetted and trust, never a “support agent” who has reached out to you. Only install new programs from vendors you’re already familiar with, or from the Mac’s built-in App Store. And don’t click links in emails that lead to login or account management pages: you can always visit your bank’s (or any other) website directly by entering the address in your web browser.

If you suspect you’ve been infected by adware or other malicious software, there’s help. Adware Medic is a Mac program that scans for and removes unscrupulous advertisement-injecting and browser-redirecting code. And ClamXav is an antivirus program for Mac based on the industry-standard ClamAV engine. Both are free to download, and supported by user donations.

About The Author: Jesse Holden