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Technology

Magnets are revolutionizing the keyboard industry

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The popularity of mechanical keyboards surged from being a specialized item to becoming widely adopted during the epidemic as individuals sought to enhance their home workspaces and potentially explore a new pastime. Brands like Akko, Drop, Ducky, Epomaker, and Keychron have gained widespread recognition and are now well-known among enthusiasts. Today, these enthusiasts have a wide range of options when it comes to choosing alternative keyboard layouts and may purchase parts from numerous vendors.

Subsequently, the current situation has become somewhat uninteresting, as even the formerly exclusive capabilities have now become available on inexpensive keyboards. RGB lighting has become commonplace, as companies like Angry Miao and others consistently discover creative and novel applications for it. There is a vast array of switches to choose from, ranging from the lightest switches designed for games to the heaviest switches suitable for even the most enthusiastic typists. These switches come in linear, tactile, and clicky variations and are available in a seemingly limitless variety of colors. In the past, gasket-mounted keyboards, which provide a more cushioned and responsive typing experience, were mostly available on expensive keyboards for enthusiasts. However, nowadays, this feature has become commonplace across the board.

There are certain advantages to this situation: the overall construction quality of mechanical keyboards available on the market has reached unprecedented levels, and the prices have decreased. However, the entire situation has also grown quite monotonous. Magnetic switches are useful because they can rapidly alter the actuation point, which is the moment when the switch detects your downward keystroke.

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In a typical mechanical keyboard switch, the act of pressing a key physically completes an electrical circuit, thereby registering the key press. When downward pressure is applied, the two legs on the stem, which is the movable component to which the keycap is connected, exert force on two metal leaves, resulting in the closure of the circuit.

The distinguishing factor between a linear switch, such as the Gateron Red switches commonly found on gaming keyboards, and a switch with a more tactile sensation, like the Cherry Brown switches, lies in the design of the stem and its legs. Linear switches include stems with a flat surface, whereas tactile switches contain a small bump that creates a moment of resistance when pressed down. The total configuration of the stem, including its legs, the spring, the base on which the stem rests, and the switch housing, can significantly influence the tactile and auditory feedback of a switch, as well as the precise moment at which the keyboard registers a keypress. In the case of a conventional Gateron Red switch, the keypress is officially recognized once you depress it by around 2 millimeters. The total distance the key travels before the stem reaches the bottom of the switch is 4 millimeters.

Mechanical switches exhibit significant dissimilarities. These devices are dependent on magnets and springs, and they operate by detecting changes in the magnetic field. These switches, popularized by the Dutch keyboard startup Wooting, utilize the Hall Effect and have been in existence since the 1960s. Although they retain the same fundamental construction as mechanical switches, including stems and springs, they lack the stem legs due to the absence of an electrical circuit that needs to be closed. Nonetheless, the stem has a permanent magnet, which allows the keyboard’s PCB sensor to accurately detect the switch’s position when pressure is applied. And this is where the most significant modification occurs: you have the ability to adjust the required depth for a keystroke to be registered.

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During gaming, it may be desirable to capture finger movement as small as 0.1 millimeter. However, when using the same keyboard for typing, it is recommended to increase the threshold to 2.5 millimeters to prevent accidental keystrokes. Usually, this is accomplished by using a straightforward combination of keys on the keyboard or through the software tools provided by the vendor. Due to the sensitivity of these sensors to temperature fluctuations, there is usually an option available to calibrate the keyboard.

This feature also enables the implementation of more intelligent techniques, as it allows for not only modifying the location where the keypress is initiated but also where it is terminated. While typing, the responsiveness of the keyboard may not be of great significance to you. However, during gaming, it is crucial as it enables you to rapidly press a key when necessary. Magnetic keyboards often come with tools that have a rapid trigger setting, allowing you to quickly spam a key. Additionally, the extensive customization options of these keyboards allow you to experiment with different settings without the need to physically switch to a different switch.

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If you desire to exceed the normal limits, you can create a macro-like function by assigning multiple actions to a single key. This allows for a different action to be registered when the key is pressed halfway down, when it is fully pressed down, and when the switch pushes the keycap back up. Additionally, you may assign another action to occur at some point in between these actions. Although I have not yet discovered a specific application for this in my own life, it is highly likely that someone else will.

However, the resistance of the switch is immutable and cannot be altered. Despite the extensive discussion of magnets, the spring inside the switch is ultimately responsible for performing the function.

An issue arises from the lack of a standardized format for these switches, resulting in the incompatibility of some switches with specific keyboards. Depending on the manufacturer, it is possible to connect traditional mechanical switches to the PCB as well. However, it is important to note that these switches do not offer the same customizable advantages as magnetic switches.

A journey to Santorini: Akko’s MOD 007B personal computer
In order to evaluate the product, Akko provided me with a review unit of their MOD007B PC Santorini keyboard. This keyboard belongs to the World Tour series and is characterized by its more understated design compared to other models in the series. The gasket-mount MOD007B PC is available at a price of approximately $150, but it is commonly sold for roughly $110 on Amazon. This keyboard comes pre-assembled and features Kailh’s linear Sakura Pink magnetic switches. The PCB is compatible with 3-pin mechanical switches.

Connectivity options include normal Bluetooth and USB-C connections, as well as a multi-host 2.4Ghz option that requires the provided dongle. The board is equipped with a 3600mAh battery to support wireless operations.

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The 75-percent case is not very remarkable since it is made of simple polycarbonate. However, unlike many high-end keyboards, it has the ability to modify the typing angle using its dual-position feet.

Akko employed a sufficient quantity of foam within the case to modulate the sound of the board, resulting in a clacky auditory experience. I have a taste for a sound that is slightly more muted, although I acknowledge that this is entirely subjective. The stabilizers are finely calibrated, but there is a discernible level of case ping. A few minor modifications should address that issue. However, it is noteworthy that this board’s most apparent drawback remains unaddressed, despite the firm producing numerous generations of MOD007 boards. A few minor adjustments should resolve the issue, but purchasers should not be required to make such improvements even at this price range.

Regarding the software, Akko has developed its own exclusive software tool that is capable and user-friendly. It fulfills its intended purpose and does not interfere with your activities. One drawback of boards using magnetic switches is their tendency to prioritize proprietary software over open-source alternatives such as VIA.

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The focus of this board is solely on magnetic switches. I derived considerable pleasure from doing experiments with them, and although I did not emerge victorious in obtaining a single chicken supper in PUBG throughout the testing phase, I did perceive that, at the appropriate configuration, it enabled me to respond with a slightly enhanced speed. The level of success you experience with Valorant and other shooters may differ, as the effectiveness of rapid trigger functions can play a significant role. Regardless, it is an enjoyable board game to play.

The switch is a Khailh Sakura Pink magnetic switch with a bottom-out force of 50 gf. That aligns with the characteristics of typical linear switches, but it may be slightly heavier than average.

It took me some time to discover the optimal configuration for everyday typing. After trying out several options, I ultimately settled on Akko’s default comfort setting, which establishes the actuation and release points at a precise measurement of 2mm. The default game setting is set to a speed of 0.5mm, which appears to be sufficiently quick.

Although not the most high-end board available, Akko has developed a keyboard that, when adjusted correctly and with a few small modifications, offers a satisfying typing experience (if you prefer linear switches) and also serves as a suitable gaming platform. The crucial aspect here is that this board enables both gamers and non-gamers to enter the magnetic switch market without incurring significant additional costs. Is it the most superior board available? Although it is not significantly better, considering the price, it is difficult to find a better option.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

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Artificial Intelligence

The newly formed AI council at Meta consists exclusively of individuals who identify as white males

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Meta recently announced the formation of an AI advisory council comprised exclusively of individuals from a specific demographic. What else could we possibly anticipate? For years, women and people of color have been voicing their concerns about being overlooked and marginalized in the field of artificial intelligence, despite their qualifications and significant contributions to its development.

Meta did not promptly address our inquiry regarding the diversity of the advisory board.

This new advisory board has a different composition compared to Meta’s actual board of directors and its oversight board. The latter two boards prioritize diversity in terms of gender and racial representation. The shareholders did not elect this AI board, and it has no fiduciary responsibility. Meta informed Bloomberg that the board would provide valuable insights and recommendations regarding technological advancements, innovation, and strategic growth opportunities. We would meet on a regular basis.

It’s interesting to note that the AI advisory council consists solely of businesspeople and entrepreneurs, rather than ethicists or individuals with an academic or extensive research background. Although it may be true that the executives from Stripe, Shopify, and Microsoft have a strong background in bringing numerous products to market, it is important to note that AI is a unique and complex field that requires specialized expertise. It’s a high-stakes endeavor with potential far-reaching consequences, especially for marginalized communities.

Sarah Myers West, managing director of the AI Now Institute, a nonprofit that studies the social effects of AI, told me that it’s important to “critically examine” the companies that are making AI to “make sure the public’s needs are served.”

“This technology makes mistakes a lot of the time, and we know from our own research that those mistakes hurt communities that have been discriminated against for a long time more than others,” she said. “We should set a very, very high bar.”

The bad things about AI happen to women a lot more often than to men. In 2019, Sensity AI found that 96% of AI deepfake videos online were sexually explicit videos that people did not agree to watch. Since then, generative AI has spread widely, and women are still the ones who suffer from it.

In a notable incident that occurred in January, explicit deepfake videos of Taylor Swift, created without her consent, gained widespread attention on X. One particular post, which garnered hundreds of thousands of likes and accumulated 45 million views, was particularly popular. Social platforms such as X have traditionally been unsuccessful in safeguarding women from these situations. However, due to Taylor Swift’s immense influence as one of the most influential women globally, X took action by prohibiting search terms like “taylor swift ai” and “taylor swift deepfake.”

However, if this situation occurs to you and you are not a worldwide popular sensation, then you may be unfortunate. There are a plethora of reports documenting instances where students in middle school and high school have created explicit deepfakes of their fellow classmates. Although this technology has existed for some time, it has become increasingly accessible. One no longer needs to possess advanced technological skills to download applications that are explicitly marketed for the purpose of removing clothing from photos of women or replacing their faces with those in pornographic content. According to NBC reporter Kat Tenbarge, Facebook and Instagram displayed advertisements for an application called Perky AI, which claimed to be a tool for creating explicit images.

Two of the advertisements, which purportedly evaded Meta’s detection until Tenbarge brought the matter to the company’s attention, featured images of celebrities Sabrina Carpenter and Jenna Ortega with their bodies intentionally obscured, encouraging users to prompt the application to digitally remove their clothing. The advertisements featured a photograph of Ortega taken when she was only 16 years old.

The decision to permit Perky AI to advertise was not a singular occurrence. The company’s improper handling of complaints about artificial intelligence-generated sexually explicit content has prompted investigations by the Oversight Board of Meta.

It is crucial to include the perspectives of women and people of color in the development of artificial intelligence products. Historically, marginalized groups have been systematically excluded from participating in the creation of groundbreaking technologies and research, leading to catastrophic outcomes.

A clear illustration is the historical exclusion of women from clinical trials until the 1970s, resulting in the development of entire fields of research without considering the potential effects on women. A 2019 study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed that black individuals, specifically, experience the consequences of technology that is not designed with their needs in mind. For instance, self-driving cars are more prone to colliding with black individuals due to the difficulty their sensors may face in detecting black skin.

Algorithms that are trained using biased data simply replicate the same prejudices that humans have instilled in them. In general, we are already witnessing AI systems actively perpetuating and intensifying racial discrimination in areas such as employment, housing, and criminal justice. Voice assistants encounter difficulties in comprehending various accents and frequently identify the content produced by non-native English speakers as being generated by artificial intelligence, as highlighted by Axios. This is due to the fact that English is the primary language for AI. Facial recognition systems exhibit a higher frequency of identifying black individuals as potential matches for criminal suspects compared to white individuals.

The present advancement of AI reflects the prevailing power structures pertaining to social class, race, gender, and Eurocentrism, which are also evident in other domains. Unfortunately, it appears that leaders are not paying enough attention to this issue. On the contrary, they are strengthening it. Investors, founders, and tech leaders are excessively fixated on rapid progress and disruptive innovation, to the extent that they fail to comprehend the potential negative consequences of generative AI, which is currently a highly popular AI technology. McKinsey’s report suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to automate around 50% of jobs that do not necessitate a four-year college degree and have an annual salary of over $42,000. These jobs are more commonly held by minority workers.

There is legitimate concern regarding the ability of a team consisting solely of white men at a highly influential tech company, who are competing to develop AI technology to save the world, to provide advice on products that cater to the needs of all individuals, given that they only represent a limited demographic. Developing technology that is accessible to every single individual will require a substantial and concerted endeavor. The complexity of constructing AI systems that are both safe and inclusive, encompassing research and understanding at an intersectional societal level, is so intricate that it is apparent that this advisory board will not effectively assist Meta in achieving this goal. Where Meta lacks, another startup has the potential to emerge.

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Science

69% of gamers say they “smurf,” even though they hate it

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A recent study on toxicity in gaming reveals that a significant majority of gamers, 69 percent to be precise, openly confess to engaging in smurfing, even though they vehemently despise it when others resort to smurfing tactics against them.

For those unfamiliar with the term, smurfing may seem like a perplexing concept. Some may even imagine a scenario where 69 percent of gamers paint themselves blue and only communicate using the word “smurf” during their gaming sessions. If that’s your assumption, then you couldn’t be more mistaken.

When engaging in online multiplayer games, developers strive to create a balanced and enjoyable experience by matching players with opponents of similar skill levels. This ensures that players aren’t constantly overwhelmed by opponents who far exceed their abilities. However, individuals have discovered workarounds for this issue. They either create new accounts or borrow existing ones from other gamers to compete against opponents who possess significantly lower skill levels.

In 1996, two players of Warcraft 2 gained such a fearsome reputation for their exceptional skills that fellow gamers would immediately withdraw from matches upon spotting their usernames. When it came to playing the game they had bought, they decided to create additional accounts called PapaSmurf and Smurfette and proceeded to dominate their adversaries using these fresh profiles. The term “smurfing” gained popularity and is now commonly used to refer to players who intentionally create new accounts to compete against less skilled opponents.

A significant number of gamers have reported the occurrence of smurfing, with 97 percent of participants in a recent study acknowledging that they encounter smurfs during their gameplay. The gaming community perceives this behavior as detrimental; despite this, 69 percent of individuals acknowledged engaging in smurfing on occasion, with 13 percent admitting to doing it frequently or almost always.

The study conducted by the team from Ohio State University found that, in comparison to smurfees, participants perceived smurfs as having a higher likelihood of being toxic, disengaging from the game, and enjoying the game. “There were also significant self-other effects observed.” Compared to their own perception, participants believed that other gamers were more prone to displaying toxic behavior, less inclined to continue playing the game, and less likely to derive enjoyment from it.

Upon concluding the study, the researchers solicited feedback from gamers (recruited from Reddit) and discovered various motivations behind smurfing. These motivations included the desire to play with friends of varying skill levels as well as the satisfaction derived from defeating inexperienced players. The team conducted a subsequent study, in which players were asked to assess different justifications for smurfing. They were informed that these justifications were actual reasons provided by smurfs who had achieved victory in the game they were smurfing in. In addition, they were queried about the appropriate degree of retribution to be meted out to the smurf.

The team anticipated that individuals would adopt a “motivated-blame perspective,” wherein they would universally consider smurfing to be morally objectionable, regardless of any justifications.

“According to lead author Charles Monge, this perspective asserts that if an action is deemed wrong, the justification behind it becomes irrelevant as it remains inherently wrong,” as stated in a press release. “The concept is that it should be irrelevant whether you were simply playing casually to join your friends; you caused me to lose this game, and now I am angry.”

Nevertheless, the team discovered that gamers assessed the morality of smurfing on a personal level, categorizing certain forms of smurfing as more culpable than others. They also expressed a desire for stricter penalties for smurfs who had less valid reasons for engaging in smurfing, such as a desire to dominate less skilled players.

A third study discovered that individuals who do not play video games exhibit a similar socially regulated viewpoint, perceiving subtleties in smurfing behavior. Although intriguing due to the commonly associated toxicity in gaming, the team aspires to apply the findings in other areas.

“Games can serve as a powerful tool for testing concepts that extend beyond the realm of gaming,” Monge stated. Studying how blame is assigned in an online setting can provide insights into how blame is assigned in general.

The research is published in the journal New Media & Society.

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Space Exploration

The spin of a supermassive black hole has been measured for the first time using a destroyed star

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There are bright bursts of energy called tidal disruption events (TDEs) that happen when a supermassive black hole eats something. Most of the time, it’s a star that was ripped apart because it was so close. Some of the snack is thrown away, but the stellar plasma that is left over forms a hot disk around the black hole. Since this disk shakes, astronomers have now figured out how to use that shaking to figure out how fast black holes spin.

This TDE is known as AT2020ocn. Scientists found that the star’s X-ray emissions seemed to reach their brightest point every 15 days and that this happened more than once. It is thought that this is because the disk’s rotation affects the black hole’s rotation. A supermassive black hole’s gravity is so strong that it bends space-time around it wildly, and when it spins, it pulls space-time with it.

The lens-thirring precession is the name of this effect, but most people can’t see it. Since black holes don’t give off light, the precession can’t be seen. That is, unless all of a sudden you have something that shines, like the remains of a star that just died. They used that theory and guesses to find out that the black hole’s spin is less than a quarter of the speed of light.

Over the 200 days that the object was seen, the X-ray flashes were seen 130 of those days. Once that was over, the disk stopped spinning. The NICER telescope was used to make the observations. It is an X-ray telescope that is attached to the International Space Station. NICE stands for Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR.

“It was important to catch this early because this precession, or wobble, should only be there early on,” “Any later, and the disk would no longer wobble,” said Dheeraj “DJ” Pasham, the lead author from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Figuring out the spin of supermassive black holes is important because it will help us understand how these objects grow. If supermassive black holes mostly grow by accretion, the small amount of mass falling on them will make them spin faster. Collisions between black holes, on the other hand, would make the spin smaller because the spins of two different black holes would not be aligned.

This first measurement showed that a TDE can be used to figure out the spin of a black hole and that current and future telescopes can gather a group of objects. From these observations in the future, we might be able to get a general idea of how supermassive black holes have changed over time.

“Flows of matter falling into black holes can create some of the brightest events in the universe,” said Chris Nixon, an associate professor of theoretical physics at the University of Leeds and a co-author of the study, in a statement sent. “We still don’t fully understand a lot of things, but there are amazing observational facilities that keep surprising us and giving us new things to learn.” This event is one of those wild cards.

The journal Nature has a paper that talks about the results.

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